Magen Wolfe believes her son can read. But she can’t be sure.
Her 5-year-old, Andrin Jason, can identify the “Finding Nemo” DVD even without the cover. He can find certain games on her cellphone using only text. He pulls out the phone book and rifles through it. He loves the credits at the end more than he loves movies.
But Andrin is autistic, Wolfe said, and he doesn’t communicate. She knows her son is “sensory-oriented,” though. “He loves to feel things,” said Wolfe, 26, of Spokane.
A volunteer at the Christmas Bureau helped Wolfe find just the right books for Andrin on Thursday – a couple with words as well as fuzzy animals to feel, and one with blocks that spin. The bureau usually gives away one book per child, but Andrin got extra.
The bureau’s book-distribution effort – which started with a source of donated children’s books that has mostly dried up – gained some stability this week thanks to a $25,000 gift from Fred Meyer.
Fred Meyer is among the stores where low-income bureau recipients can spend grocery vouchers distributed along with toys and children’s books.
“We’ve been taking the vouchers for so many years and haven’t been participating over the years,” said Melinda Merrill, director of public affairs for Fred Meyer. “It made us realize we needed to be a part of it.”
At the end of its sixth day Thursday, the bureau had given away $230,381 in vouchers.
The Tilford Family Foundation, of Spokane, also gave $2,000 to help pay for books.
The bureau began distributing books years ago, handing out tens of thousands of free books from Scholastic Inc.
But before the 2009 bureau, the publisher – facing its own economic woes – said it could no longer donate the books. The bureau’s book giveaway had become an important part of the charity, however, and organizers set a $25,000 budget to buy titles, tapping into the bureau’s reserves to do it.
This year’s supply of books – nearly 16,000 for children from birth through age 14 – includes about 3,000 books donated by Scholastic’s local and national offices, far fewer than the publisher donated in the past but still helpful, organizers said. Organizers hunted down bargains for the rest, studying catalogs, watching for deals online and perusing the shelves at discount stores.
Volunteers who run the bureau’s book-distribution effort – many of them retired teachers – work to offer a range of genres and titles for each age group, keeping an eye on trends in children’s literature but offering classics as well.
Besides Fred Meyer stores, the vouchers given away at the bureau are also good at local Rosauers, Safeway, Albertsons, Yoke’s Fresh Market and Trading Co. stores.
Each voucher’s value – from $18 to $40 – depends on the number of people in the family. The vouchers can’t be used for alcohol, tobacco, lottery tickets or gift cards, and recipients can’t get cash back if they spend less than the vouchers are worth.
The donations from Fred Meyer and the Tilford foundation are “sponsorships” earmarked for books, organizers said, so they’re not counted as part of the Christmas Fund.
The Christmas Fund now stands at $246,256.59.
An anonymous donor from Spokane gave $5,000 “in appreciation for 30-plus great years in Spokane. I hope this will provide some Christmas cheer to those struggling in these tough economic times.”
Claude and Mable Mitson gave $339.55 via PayPal.
Leroy and Irene Byrd, of Spokane, gave $400 in memory of Anetta Marie, Andrew James and grandson Spencer Johnstone.
An anonymous couple from Spokane gave $300, as did Frank and Patricia Goodman, of Spokane.
Sidney Nicholson, of Spokane, gave $250.
Residents who gave $200: Brent and Janine Carlson, of Spokane; an anonymous donor from Spokane Valley; Dennis Hughes, of Deer Park; and Kathleen and Hugh Lackie.
Anonymous donors from Spokane gave $120.
An anonymous donor from Spokane gave $105.
Spokane residents who gave $100: Joan and Joel Rogers; Mary Ann Catchpole; Jeff and Becky Olson; Donna Roloff; Shirley Ann Walters, in memory of her husband, Marvin; Patrick and Marlene Cantlon; and Colleen Daley and Bruce Shaw. Dennis and Susan Conley, of Moses Lake, also gave $100, as did the Inland Northwest Corvair Club.
Peter and Janet Grossman, of Spokane, gave $60.
An anonymous donor gave $53.10 via PayPal.
Spokane residents who gave $50: Susan Moyer; Bernice McClure; and Diane Veltri, in memory of her brother, Doug White. Also giving $50: Alice Hall, of Ritzville; Roger and Pat French, of Spokane Valley; and the Onion Creek School Board and administration.
Mary Palmer gave $33.68 via PayPal.
Jim and Sandie Donahue, of Spokane Valley, gave $30.
Marie Holliday, of Spokane, gave $25, as did an anonymous donor.
An anonymous donor gave $10. “I found this money in a parking lot,” the donor wrote. After waiting for someone to claim it, “I thought it might help to buy food or a toy for a deserving child.”
An anonymous donor from Moscow, Idaho, gave $5 “in memory of my parents and brother.”