Ben Donnelly, 16, has a trick when it comes to child care: Build towers out of Mega Bloks – way over his own head – and let the kids knock them down.
He likes to save the trick for criers. Chances are, impressed by their own destructive power, they’ll forget what they were crying about.
“It’s wonderful,” Donnelly said.
Donnelly volunteered with his Rogers High School ROTC group Thursday to play with kids at the Christmas Bureau. The bureau offers free child care to preserve the element of surprise, bureau coordinator Judy Lee said.
Parents can drop off kids before they select books and toys for Christmas. They pick the kids up on their way out, after the gifts are hidden in plastic bags.
Roughly 100 to 120 children are dropped off every day, said Pat Garver, of Spokane, a child care supervisor.
Garver said high school students are crucial. They play with the kids while the adults focus on safety: preventing escapes – the play area is a cordoned-off space near the bureau’s exit, its fabric walls reinforced by flattened cardboard boxes – and making sure the person who dropped off a child is the one who picks them up. To that end, parents and children receive matching wristbands.
“Three cheers to the high school students, that’s what I say,” Garver said.
The job isn’t necessarily easy, but it’s usually not complicated, Donnelly said. You make sure the kids are safe, you follow them around, you battle with imaginary lightsabers and Mega Blok guns, you put a basket on your head and pretend you’re a soldier or Darth Vader.
You assure an 8-year-old enamored of his teddy-bear-themed wristband, that yes, you too like teddy bears.
“You gotta act like a momentary big brother,” Donnelly said. “A momentary nice big brother.”
He knows how to do that. He has two little sisters and a little brother, and another little brother who died. The youngest of his siblings will be 3 in January.
“I freaking love, like, little kids,” Donnelly said. “I feel like we can connect.”
The Christmas Bureau, a collaboration of the Volunteers of America, Catholic Charities Spokane and The Spokesman-Review, distributes grocery vouchers along with the toys and books to families in need. Paid for with donations by newspaper readers, it’s open through Monday (but closed Sunday).
Thanks to new donations totaling $6,673.12, the Christmas Fund has reached $248,496.24.
The Spokane Regional Plan Center gave $3,000. Wrote Chairman Tom Hansen: “The need this year is even greater than it has been in the past, which makes every donation so vital. We hope other construction-related organizations will donate whatever they are able, and hope all those in the area that are considering a donation keep in mind the families and children these donations benefit – those right here in our community.”
A $950 anonymous donation from Hauser, Idaho, was made “in honor of God’s gift to the world, his only begotten son, Jesus our Messiah.”
An anonymous couple from Spokane Valley gave $250 in memory of Hubert and Theresa Golden. Red Apple, of Newman Lake, also donated $250.
Neal and Joann Skaufel and family, of Spokane Valley, donated $205.
Nico and Jerome Morales, of Medical Lake, gave $200.
Gary and Vicki Erickson, of Medical Lake, donated $150.
Modern Construction & Consulting Services, of Spokane, gave $125.
Spokane residents who donated $100: D.J. and Karen Merritt; J. Lance and Joy Griffith; Donna Bondahl, in memory of Gary, Brian, Alys and Dorty; Frank and Jeanine Neeri, in memory of Rick Schulman; and Mel and Gloria McCuddin.
More Spokane residents who gave $100: Larry Luton and Susan Hales; Laverne Linder; and “Mrs. R and Mr. David,” in memory of Laura Koppe, 20, who died this year in an auto accident: “The magic, memories and the giving at the holiday season remind us of everything that made Laura so special.”
Spokane Valley residents who donated $100: an anonymous couple; and Lester and Patti Hibdon, who wrote: “Thank you for helping, again, to make miracles happen!”
An anonymous donor from Colville also gave $100.
The Goners, “a group of women who used to work together and still get together to share a laugh now and then,” donated $86.
Spokane residents who gave $50: W.L. and Pauline Moeckel; Joan and Kerry Orcutt; Larry and Kathey Johnston; and Vick Myers-Canfield and Steve Canfield, “in honor of Whitman Tecumseh Fadely, the sixth generation of his family to come here and grow up in Spokane County.”
Deanna and Alan Eppinger, of Spokane, gave $35.
Spokane residents who gave $25: Betty Thompson; and AJ and Doreen Kelsey. C.R. and M.L. Anderson, of Spokane Valley, gave $25, as did Agnes Rablin, of Cheney.
An anonymous donor gave $22.12.