November 26, 2010 in City

Christmas Fund kicks off annual drive to help needy

The Spokesman-Review
Christopher Anderson photo

Heidi Preston, left, and Brigid Krause, of Catholic Charities, go over the master list, posted behind them, of 350 volunteers who will work the Christmas Bureau this season.
(Full-size photo)

The Christmas Fund starts today with the goal of raising $500,000 in donations to pay for the Christmas Bureau, an annual event that distributes toys and food money to Spokane-area families.

The Christmas Bureau is a big deal. How big is it?

It’s so big, it’s held at the fairgrounds to hold the crowds. Last year, 5,900 people showed up on the first day to select a free toy for each of their children and a voucher for groceries. (Last summer, in comparison, 19,000 showed up on opening day of the actual fair.)

It’s so big, it takes more than 350 volunteers to keep it running. (The chart used to track volunteers and their jobs is a refrigerator chore chart writ gigantic. It would cover the refrigerator.)

The organizers arrived at this year’s big $500,000 target by looking at the need in this community, taking an educated guess at how many people will seek help, and multiplying that by the dollars they think they’ll need to answer each of those calls.

Last year, organizers predicted that by the end of the bureau’s two-week run they’d help 32,040 people. They served nearly 4,000 more than that. This year, as families continue to struggle with the aftermath of the Great Recession, the organizers expect they might see even more than that. The need is big.

Besides the volunteers, the Christmas Bureau, which opens Dec. 9, takes considerable effort by staff members of two local social service organizations, Catholic Charities Spokane and Volunteers of America. It takes a daily newspaper – this one – to spread the word and its accounting department to collect and tabulate the Christmas Fund donations that keep the bureau going.

The Christmas Bureau runs on sweat and spreadsheets and a grand feat of logistics. It also runs on gestures large and small. It runs on generosity, on whatever it takes for someone to decide to give a present – a toy to a child, food to a family – to a stranger they’ll never meet. There are several ways to donate: in person, online, through the mail. Gifts of all size are accepted with gratitude.

The Christmas Bureau had a modest beginning. Its goal, in 1945, was to help one man, a soldier who’d lost his sight, part of an arm and the use of a hand in a mine explosion.

It’s grown to an impressive scale. But the Christmas Bureau is also about the little things. The littlest things: a sincere smile, a supportive word. The mantra among its staffers and volunteers is: The recipients won’t remember the present they received. They’ll remember how they were treated that day, a day they humbled themselves to stand in a line in the cold to pick out a toy for their child on Christmas.

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