The “supermarket sets” of toddler-size carts and toy food to put in them looked familiar to volunteer Hanna Weathers at the Christmas Bureau on Wednesday.
She had the same toy as a kid, she said as she helped tote the toys from the end of a semi-truck to their assigned spot in the bureau’s behind-the-scenes storage area.
It wasn’t so long ago. Weathers, 17, is a Freeman High School senior. She and 22 other members of Freeman’s National Honor Society chapter showed up early to help transform a cold space at the fairgrounds into a welcoming charity that will serve thousands of people starting Friday.
“This is the funnest field trip I’ve been on so far,” Weathers said. “It’s like Santa’s workshop.”
As that first truckload of toys was followed by four more, the Christmas Bureau began to take shape Wednesday. Dozens of volunteers – including groups from Rogers and Gonzaga Prep high schools, too – flipped over folding tables, pushed around carts stacked over their heads with boxes, and checked inventory against orders.
The bureau, a joint effort by Catholic Charities Spokane, the Volunteers of America and The Spokesman-Review, will distribute children’s books and grocery vouchers along with the toys. Donations to the Christmas Fund pay for the gifts.
The gaping space at the Spokane County Fair & Expo Center was being divided into a recipient intake area, a book room, a toy room, a bagging-and-batteries area, and a child-care room where parents can leave their kids while they pick out their gifts.
The setup Wednesday hit one early snag: A load of toys, en route by train from the Midwest, was delayed and wouldn’t arrive until Thursday. Still, there were thousands of toys to unload.
And there was plenty of help as the first truck backed in – volunteers crowded the end of the trailer to accept toys as fast as the volunteers who’d climbed in could pass them down. Tall stacks of Police Mini-Trikes dwindled, and towers of My Very Own Vanities emerged.
Randy Olson, who helps manage the toy inventory, watched as students hustled to put the toys in place.
“I want to jump in. I’m not supposed to. I’m supposed to let them do it,” said Olson, of Spokane Valley.
Volunteer Don Ragan, of Spokane Valley, watched as the high school students and others crowded the truck, waiting their turn to help. To him, he said, the volunteers’ eagerness reflected what’s important about Christmas.
By giving their time, he said, “They’re probably getting as much out of this as the people who’ll receive.”