Childhood penmanship-award winner and 30-year waitress Mabe Hunter, 72, submitted handwriting samples to Christmas Bureau organizers in securing a volunteer job.
It didn’t hurt – Monday was Hunter’s third day at the bureau, where she greeted recipients and checked their IDs, comparing adults’ addresses with their children’s and carefully recording their personal information.
As a first-year volunteer, she was among company. It’s a big year for new workers at the bureau – and new volunteers communitywide, said Brigid Krause, the volunteer coordinator at Catholic Charities Spokane. Catholic Charities organizes the 10-day charity event with the Volunteers of America and The Spokesman-Review.
By the end of today, the Christmas Bureau’s final day, about 400 people will have given their time, Krause said. Last year, the bureau had 368 volunteers.
The volunteers make the bureau tick, greeting recipients, checking IDs, printing up grocery vouchers and helping parents choose books and toys to give their children for Christmas. They keep the toy room stocked and track inventory, care for kids while parents select gifts, make coffee and bag up toys.
Among the new volunteers are unemployed people who “want to spend their time doing something meaningful,” Krause said. Others heard friends speak highly of their own volunteer stints at the bureau.
The bureau’s not alone in seeing an influx of new helpers, she said.
Krause said Catholic Charities Spokane’s volunteer base is 6,000 people strong. That’s compared with 4,000 just two years ago, she said.
“Communitywide, volunteering is in vogue right now,” Krause said. “I think that people are realizing they’re missing something by not doing some community give-back.”
Bureau coordinator Judy Lee said she is impressed by the variety within the volunteers’ ranks, whether they’re longtime workers or new to the charity. They include former and current recipients, retirees, firefighters, health care workers and students. Some arrive at the bureau as part of workplace crews; others use vacation time to volunteer.
“The volunteers come from all walks of life,” Lee said.
Hunter, the former waitress, has volunteered elsewhere, too, she said, including as a foster grandparent and making blankets to donate to veterans with disabilities – “Crocheting is my tranquilizer.”
She plans to return to the bureau next year, she said.
“Somebody says I need help for a couple of minutes, I’m there,” said Hunter, of Spokane.
Alaine Qualls, 63, is a repeat volunteer.
When traffic slows in the bureau’s toy room, Qualls hauls out her accordion and moves over to the indoor queues of recipients to play a few tunes.
Her jingle-bell earrings tinkling, Qualls said she looks forward to her volunteer shifts helping parents choose toys and games for their kids.
“I love children, and I love toys,” said Qualls, of Spokane. “I think I’m a child at heart.”
For Joy Painter, a retired first-grade teacher, the bureau is a place to connect with people – and to reconnect with children’s literature from behind the book tables.
“I get to interact with parents and talk about books that I’ve always loved,” said Painter, 66, of Spokane Valley. “My favorite part of first grade was storytime.”
Painter is a fourth-year volunteer. She likes the bureau partly, she said, because of its motto: “They might not remember what they received, but they’ll remember how they were treated.”
“That is so important,” she said. “Everybody is treated with respect and a happy face.”
Brandon Bauer, 15, worked at the bureau Monday, bagging up recipients’ gifts for them and helping people tote them to their cars.
Bauer worked alongside his mother, Keri Meister, 40, who volunteered with a group of fellow Avista employees.
“I think it’s important to give back,” Meister said. “We don’t need for much.”
Meister said their Spokane family pitches in elsewhere, too, participating in Spokane River cleanups and at Bloomsday. Working at the Christmas Bureau is fun, Bauer said, although he wasn’t sure he’d be there if he were given the option.
For now, that’s not a decision he’ll have to make.
“It’s not an option,” said his mother.
Thanks to a heap of new gifts, the Christmas Fund now stands at $297,775.39. The goal is to raise $525,000 to cover the bureau’s costs.
Spokane Regional Plan Center gave $3,000. “All one needs to do is read the paper each day to see that the needs of those in our community are great, which makes every donation vital,” wrote board Chairwoman Cathy Sander. “We hope other construction-related organizations will donate whatever they are able, and hope all those in the area that are considering a donation keep in mind the families and children these donations benefit.”
Mr. and Mrs. William Murphy, of Spokane, gave $1,000.
Georgene Patten, of Spokane, gave $600 to honor her husband, Les Patten, a longtime donor, “and Les’ special doubles partner Mick Soss, who is currently on his 13th year of commitment as a volunteer.”
An anonymous family from Spokane gave $500 “in thanksgiving for our wonderful family and the heaps of blessings we’ve had from God through the years. May everyone have food and toys for Christmas.” Donna Hares, of Spokane, gave $500 “in memory of my husband, Donald W. Hares, and my sister Dorothy A. ‘Dode’ Koch, who passed away Oct. 29, 2011.”
Richard and Lauretta Byrd, of Spokane, gave $300, as did Sean and Gretchen LaSalle, of Spokane. A $300 donation from Physicians Clinic of Spokane “represents donations made by employees, staff and providers for the privilege of wearing blue jeans to work on ‘Blue Jean Friday,’ along with a matching amount from the clinic.”
A $250 donation from Caldwell Concrete, of Veradale, came with a note: “This donation is in memory of my grandfather Dr. Edward Abrams and loving brother Craig Caldwell, both of whom taught us the gift of giving. – The Caldwells.”
Another $250 gift was made “on behalf of the students, faculty and administrators at the Anesthesiology Education program at Gonzaga University and Sacred Heart Medical Center.” Edward Van Vliet, of Spokane, also gave $250.
Doug Dominey gave $242.45 via PayPal.
Donn and Linda Pattinson, of Spokane, gave $200, as did Bonnie Nelson, of Spokane, and Mary Ann Cooley, of Cheney. Peggy and Dan Jeremiah, of Spokane Valley, gave $200 and wrote, “Merry Christmas to all who enjoy the bounty of the Christmas Bureau.”
Calvin and Carly Crooks gave $150 “in memory of Mom.”
Others who gave $150: an anonymous donor from Spokane; Dick and Donita Day, of Spokane; Robert and Maureen O’Brien, in memory of Maureen’s mother, Esther Triesch McCann; Tom and Nancy Nelson, of Colbert; and Michael, John, Kev, Nancy and Ken Vorhees.
An anonymous donor from Spokane gave $125 in memory of Howard C. Hayden.
The following Spokane residents gave $100: Helen, in memory of her husband, Bob, and sister-in-law Carmie; an anonymous donor; Daniel and Kathleen Johnson; Robert and Irice Milligan; J. Paul and Sharma Shields; LaVerne Linder; the Mike Edmunds family, in memory of Jack and Jessie Weller and Francis and Mary Edmunds; and Wanda Freese.
Others who gave $100: David and JoAnn Savage, of Mead; Janet Kroll, of Deer Park; A. Van Nguyen, of Spokane Valley; anonymous donors from Spokane Valley; Elmo and Mariam Bartlett, of Cheney, in honor of their grandchildren; Leslie and Donna Dieckman, of Rathdrum; and Craig and Vicki Popp, of Nine Mile Falls.
More $100 donors: Roger and Mary Ann Gilpin Gordon, of Sun City, Ariz., in memory of their parents, Dorothy Gordon and H.W. “Gil” and Eva Gilpin; Jeff Traynham; Lloyd and Harriett Jacobson; and Karen Graham.
Nicki Lockwood gave $80, as did the staff of Contractors Bonding & Insurance Co. Mike, Chris and Patrick Carbery gave $80 “in loving memory of members of the Carbery and Ladish family who are no longer with us.”
Michael Mason gave $53.10 via PayPal.
The following Spokane residents gave $50: Leslie and Lois Albert; Grace Hamilton; an anonymous donor; Meryl and Marylin Bauer; John Dean; and Gerry Giles, in memory of his wife, Arlene Giles. Spokane’s Browne Elementary School gave $50 in honor of Driscoll Baptist Church: “They have given many of our families in need a wonderful and generous Christmas this year!”
Others who donated $50: Elizabeth Howard, of St. John, Wash., in honor of George and Mary Kay Howard; Stephen Tilque; Karol Kaye; an anonymous donor from Spokane Valley; and another anonymous donor. Anonymous donors from Mead gave $50 and wrote: “This is our first time donating to the fund – what a wonderful holiday gift to so many in the community.”
James Fredee Littrell gave $48.25 via PayPal.
Thomas and Jessie Latimer, of Spokane, gave $42.
An anonymous donor from Spokane gave $25. AARP Greater Spokane Chapter 384 also gave $25.
Blue Chip Motors, of Spokane, gave $20. Shirley Dicus, of Spokane, also gave $20, as did Helene Heuvel, of Priest River, Idaho.
Aaron Gathier gave $14.26 via PayPal.
An anonymous couple from Spokane gave $10.