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Christmas Bureau puts books in small hands

To some children, gift may be crucial for developing literacy skills

For a child in need, one little book picked up at the Christmas Bureau can make a big difference.

That’s because there’s a strong link between poverty and reading trouble – and you need books at home to start to learn to read.

“The No. 1 predictor of childhood illiteracy is poverty,” said Susan Dibble, executive director of Page Ahead, a statewide children’s literacy program based in Seattle.

Along with choosing a toy for each of their children 17 and younger, parents at the bureau can pick a book for each child through age 14. 

While there’s no income requirement to receive gifts at the bureau, the average household income of recipients last year was a little more than $12,000 a year.

Sixty percent of families in poverty have no reading materials in their homes, Dibble said. That doesn’t just mean there’s no Curious George book on the shelf, she said – it means there’s no People magazine on the coffee table. And learning to read begins shortly after birth, Dibble said. Babies with access to books begin to learn what letters look like. Then they move on to “picture reading” – learning the relationship between illustrations and words while caregivers discuss a story’s action, for instance.

Literacy help for some low-income children arrives when they enroll in preschool through Head Start or the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program. But those programs serve only a fraction of kids from poor families, Dibble said.

“There are kids who start school who’ve never had a book in their hands in their lives,” she said.

That puts them at a serious disadvantage, considering that educators say kids should be reading at grade level by the end of third grade. That’s when it’s time for kids to be reading to learn instead of learning to read, Dibble said. From the start of kindergarten to the end of third grade, they have about 500 school days to do that. 

Organizers of the Christmas Bureau’s book giveaway are prepared to distribute 15,972 books to kids this year, 5 percent more than last year, said Tana Carosella, of Spokane, who’s in charge of a crew of retired teachers and others who help run the book operation.

This year’s supply includes 3,500 books for babies and toddlers, Carosella said, and about 2,400 for 4- and 5-year-olds.

For the kids from birth to age 3, volunteers look for books about trucks and cars, princesses, counting, the alphabet and rhyming.

For older children, Carosella said, “We want good literature, but the question really is, ‘What are they really interested in reading?’ ”

Organizers offer a variety of genres and titles and make sure they have some for boys and some for girls. If parents need help choosing, volunteers ask them about their kids’ interests and offer recommendations.

While children are more likely to read a book about a topic they’re interested in, “it doesn’t matter what you read,” said Marilee Roloff, president of the Volunteers of America of Spokane, which runs the bureau’s book operation with the volunteers.

“It doesn’t matter if you read about race cars or a trip to the moon. Reading is reading,” Roloff said. “Everything you read leads you to be more curious about something else.”

This year’s supply of books includes about 3,000 books donated by national and local Scholastic publishing offices. Organizers shopped for the rest in local stores and online, searching out bargains.

Among this year’s offerings are some titles in the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series by Jeff Kinney, well-loved among elementary students.

Volunteer Marilyn Smith, who helped choose the books for the bureau, is a retired middle-school librarian.

Books kids receive from the bureau can be read over and over or passed along to a sibling – and the book never has to go back to the library, noted Smith, of Nine Mile Falls.

“For kids that like to read, there’s just something about having a book of your own,” she said.

New donations

The Christmas Fund now stands at $63,396.01. The goal is to raise $525,000.

Barratt Leasing, of Spokane, donated $3,000. An accompanying note read: “Thank you, Spokesman-Review and all of the volunteers and charities for making this annual cause great. We are happy to participate.”

Walter and Ruth Cummings, of Spokane, gave $500. An anonymous family from Spokane also gave $500 and wrote: “We hope that those who feel discouraged and alone will find some comfort and new hope in knowing that others do care.”

Charlotte Campbell, of Spokane, donated $300 in memory of her daughter, Janice, and husband, Bruce – “and in honor of my large family, who won’t be getting much this year!” She wrote that she was tripling her usual contribution because of the level of need in the community.

Jim and Julie Lehr, of Spokane, gave $200.

Jean Jalufka, of Spokane, gave $150.

Spokane residents who gave $100: Michael and Mary Cronin; Richard and Irene Anda; Roger Palmberg; Melvin and Darlene Griffith; and an anonymous couple. An anonymous donor from Spokane Valley also gave $100.

Spokane residents who gave $50: Mary Peer, in memory of her husband, Dennis Peer; Sherryl and Steve Niska; and Fred and Catherine Williams. Sharon Boyer, of Spokane Valley, also sent $50. She wrote: “I was recently laid off, but I had saved this up especially for the Christmas Fund.”

Ben Nielsen donated $48.25 via PayPal.

Esther Westlund, of Spokane, gave $30.

Martin Bavuso donated $28.83 via PayPal.

Dale and M. Judy Smith, of Chattaroy, gave $10.