By the time the Christmas Bureau closes its doors each day, Anastasiya Timkina has trouble talking. The Russian, Spanish and English she’s been slinging around – helping person after person in the bureau’s line of people in need – are jumbled in her head and on her tongue.
“By the end of the day, you confuse all three languages into one,” she said.
Timkina, 21, is one of six people hired by the bureau to serve families from Russian-speaking countries.
“They are a godsend,” said Jay Walter, of Spokane, a volunteer supervisor of the bureau’s ID-checking stations. “They help us keep the lines moving. Otherwise we’d have to act things out.”
The bureau doesn’t track how many recipients are non-English-speakers. Walter estimated it was 15 percent, most of them Russian-speaking. Others speak Ukrainian, Marshallese, Vietnamese or Spanish.
An estimated 25,000 Slavic immigrants live in Spokane County, families from Ukraine, Moldova, Uzbekistan, Russia and elsewhere. They started coming to the area in big numbers in the 1980s, a wave of Christians fleeing religious persecution.
Russian is close enough to Ukrainian that some of the interpreters can help people from Ukraine, and Timkina also speaks Spanish.
When a recipient arrives who speaks none of the above, bureau volunteers improvise by reading the documents provided by recipients – some show up with baggies stuffed with Social Security cards and passports – and communicating with gestures. Some families bring children or others who can interpret for them.
“I think it’s very embarrassing for them,” Walter said. “You just do your best.”
Timkina knows what it’s like. She and her mother moved to Spokane from the Russian city of Kurgan, in Siberia. Her mother was to marry a man she’d been dating online.
Timkina was 10. When she arrived, she knew no English. She enrolled in the elementary school near her stepdad’s house. There was an English as a Second Language program, she said, but her meetings with the instructor were sporadic. While some kids tried to help, others were unhelpful, telling her the wrong things to say to teachers and laughing at her attempts at the new language.
“I really didn’t get much help learning English,” she said. “I pretty much learned from TV.”
But it clicked after a few months. By high school, she was taking honors classes. She graduated from Lewis and Clark High School in 2008. Now she’s taking prerequisites at Spokane Falls Community College, gearing up for medical school.
With its 33-character alphabet, Russian is a difficult language, she said. But knowing it made it easier to learn Spanish, which she began to study in high school and continued at SFCC.
Timkina has thought about studying more languages when she gets to a university with more options, she said – “Italian, Arabic perhaps. Something completely different.”
But her love is chemistry, the language of reactions and bonds. She’ll be done with her coursework at SFCC next fall. She wants to attend the University of Washington and become an anesthesiologist.
She last visited Russia with her mother six years ago. She might return for good one day, she said – she still calls Russia her home. But prices on ordinary goods are out of reach, forcing people into impossible debt, she said. And if she lived in Kurgan she’d probably be married with a couple of kids, not headed to medical school, she said.
“I’m way behind,” she said. “For that culture, I’m already old.”
The Christmas Bureau distributes toys, books and grocery vouchers to people in need. It’s organized by Catholic Charities of Spokane, the Volunteers of America and The Spokesman-Review.
The bureau served 3,058 people, including 1,439 children, on Wednesday, Day 5 of the 10-day event. That brings the total number of people served this year to 22,568.
Readers’ donations to the newspaper’s Christmas Fund pay the bureau’s bills.
The Christmas Fund now stands at $237,200.26. The goal is to raise $525,000 – the amount bureau organizers need to pay for gifts for all the families who seek its help.
Metals Fabrication Co., of Spokane, gave $5,000.
Northwest Farm Credit Services, of Spokane, gave $5,000, too, “in honor of our many hard-working customer-owners who share in our commitment of assisting those in need this holiday season.”
Retirement & Tax Planning Specialists at the Moulton Financial Center, of Spokane, also gave $5,000. “Nothing is as magical as the sparkle in a child’s eye on Christmas morning,” Donald and Rial Moulton wrote.
Thomas Kasson, of Spokane, gave $2,000.
Bill and Sharon Bronson, of Spokane Valley, gave $1,000. Rich, Carol and Scott Hendershot, of Spokane, gave $1,000. The I.S. & Emily Fetterman Foundation, of Spokane, gave $1,000. And the Suburbanites gave $1,000 to help “the many families in our community who need a helping hand.”
Valerie and Mark Sonderen, of Spokane, gave $500. “Thank you for the opportunity to share our Christmas blessings with others in our community,” they wrote. Other Spokane residents who gave $500: an anonymous donor, in memory of a nephew who died in March; Ronald and Diane Kaufman; and Terry and Judy Sparrow.
Diana and C.R. Wilhite gave $500 “in loving memory of our parents, Claud and Reta Wilhite and Bob and Jean Peterson.” The Rex Dye Trust gave $500 and sent a note thanking bureau volunteers.
Paulette and Jerry Firor, of Spokane, gave $351 in memory of their daughter Chelsey. “She loved giving to people who need, especially this time of year,” they wrote.
Kevin West, of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, gave $350 “on behalf of my local clients.” He wrote a note thanking volunteers and donors who enable “so many people within our community to have a gift under the tree, a meal, etc.” Burma and Rick Williams, of Spokane, also gave $350. “Thank you for making Spokane a better community by caring about every individual,” they wrote. “This is the heart of American democracy.”
Spokane residents who gave $300: William and Nancy Henry, in memory of their parents, Robert and Marian Heglar and Bo and Mary Henry; an anonymous donor; Keith and Janet Walker; and another anonymous donor, “in memory of Mom, Dad and Judy.” Ann and Tim Riordon, of Veradale, also gave $300.
Charles and Caroline Johnson, of Spokane, gave $290.
John Shuster and Dawn Hirakawa, of Spokane, gave $250, as did an anonymous couple from Spokane. Also giving $250: Phil Anderson, of Veradale; and Wesley and Dorothy Newbill, of Otis Orchards.
Spokane residents who gave $200: George and Lila Girvin; Heidi and Leonard Preston; two separate anonymous donors; the Comes family; Kathy and Bruce Bixler; and Barry Bergan, in the names of Debbie and Terry Montgomery.
Also giving $200: Kenneth and Anne Couch, of Cheney; Diana and Edward Honodel, of Otis Orchards; the Kleweno family of Endicott, Wash.; Joan and Doug Menzies; an anonymous donor from Colbert; and another anonymous donor.
Merle and Dolores Gilmore, of Spokane Valley, gave $150 “to honor our children, who do so much for us throughout the year.” Others who gave $150: an anonymous donor who wrote: “The story about 13-year-old Keenan Loughery in The Spokesman-Review last week inspired me to match his donation”; Robert and Geraldine Conrad, of Spokane; Rob and Laurie Sargent, of Spokane; and Scott and Connie Brunell, of Spangle.
Jack and Phyllis Worden, of Spokane, gave $130.
Eunice Johnson, of Spokane, gave $125, as did Dallas and Corrine Dixon, of Spokane. Roberta and Neil Green, of Mead, gave $125 in honor of their granddaughter Kendra Sherman “and the rest of the Mead gymnastics team.”
John and Sherry Gaiser, of Spokane, gave $110.
The following Spokane residents gave $100: Cathie Wescombe, in memory of her mother, Dorothy Faasch; four separate anonymous donors; Bert Jacobson and Patricia Etter; Kathryn Urbanek; Helen and Jerry Gillory, in memory of Loretta Bremer; Theodore and Diane Ketcham; Guy and Sylvia Perham; Mike and Joan Keegan; and David Bennett, “on behalf of my deceased mother, Madeline Bennett, who I miss every day but especially during the holidays.”
Other Spokane residents who gave $100: Betty Frost and family, in memory of Jack E. Frost Sr.; Chris Vandervert and family, in memory of Don; Jayne Walker, in memory of her husband, Bruce, and parents, Wayne and Virginia Martin; George Telfer; Susan Dankovich and Ken Raymond; Bob and Mary Morgan and family; and Steven and Linda Swartley.
Also giving $100: the Spokane chapter of Soroptimist International, “so someone will have toys and food to help them have a Merry Christmas”; the employees of the City of Spokane Accounting Department; and Rosemary Twomey, who wrote, “Maury and I cherished our memories of our life in Spokane. Really wonderful people live there.”
James and Denise Davies, of Spokane Valley, gave $100, as did Gary and Myrna Schimmels, of Spokane Valley. The Spokane-Inland Empire Ex-Prisoner of War Club gave $100. “Our ex-POWs well remember the feeling of hunger,” read an accompanying note. Daniel and Lorraine Klobucher, of Chattaroy, gave $100. Ellen Krehbiel and Jeff Wasson, of Colbert, gave $100 in honor of the Wasson and Krehbiel families.
More $100 donors: an anonymous couple from Deer Meadows, Wash., in memory of Ernie Diedesch; Janet and Charles Watkins, of Newport, Wash.; Mr. and Mrs. Tony Roche, of Liberty Lake; Nels and Doloris Nelson, of Liberty Lake; James Jacobs, of Lewiston; Pete Sherve, of Northport, Wash.; the Gonzaga University Registrar’s Office; and an anonymous couple.
Tom Flanigan gave $96.80 via PayPal.
Linnea Carlson, of Spokane, gave $60.
Spokane residents who gave $50: Bob and Julie Roberts; Dalton and Karen Jassman; two separate anonymous donors; and Joyce Rae, in memory of her sons, Billy Rae and Jim Rae. “They both loved all holidays and looked forward to them so much,” she wrote.
Also giving $50: Jake and Jenae Schrader; Carole Austin, of Colbert; and Jane and R.W. Yandt, of Spokane Valley.
Gary and Jan Huguenin, of Spokane, sent $35 and a note: “Every little bit helps bring happiness to someone else in need.” An anonymous couple from Spokane also gave $35. They’ve been living in a motel for three months, after a house fire, and “God has taken good care of us …,” they wrote. “In that spirit of giving, we cannot ‘not give.’ ” Marilyn Miller, of Spokane, also sent $35 and a note: “The need is greater than ever this year. Thanks to all the volunteers who help bring Christmas spirit to all.”
Jacqueline Eide, of Odessa, Wash., gave $30. Jean Supinger, of Medical Lake, gave $30 in memory of Jim Supinger.
Judith and William Anderson gave $25.
Spokane residents who gave $20: James and Artye Scott; Dorothy Twogood; and an anonymous donor. Another anonymous $20 donation from Spokane came with the note: “God bless all who made this gift giving possible. We wish we could give more.”
An anonymous donor from Liberty Lake gave $10.