Captain Kyle Smith of Spokane’s Salvation Army has nicknamed Sheila Geraghty and her sister, Brigid Krause, the “Charity Geraghty Sisters.”
Geraghty is the business administrator for the Salvation Army. Krause is the volunteer services manager for Catholic Charities Spokane.
The two sisters are in their busiest work seasons right now. Geraghty is preparing for Tuesday, when the Salvation Army, 222 E. Indiana Ave., will distribute turkey dinner makings to more than 7,000 low-income families.
Krause is finalizing the volunteer schedule for the Christmas Bureau, a community toy and food voucher program, which opens Dec. 9 at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center. More than 400 volunteers staff the Christmas Bureau.
As grown siblings gather this week around Thanksgiving Day dinner tables, they might consider how nature, nurture – or a combination of both – determines the paid, and volunteer, work they do.
These two “siblings in service” trace the roots of their nonprofit careers to service work role-modeled in their childhood. And they hope to pass the value of giving back to the younger folks in their family.
Early years: The Geraghty sisters were born just 11 months apart – Geraghty is 50; Krause is 49. They have an older sister, Marcella, and a younger sister, Nora.
They grew up on Spokane’s North Side. Their father, Jack Geraghty, was a Spokane Chronicle reporter, then a Spokane County Commissioner, a post he resigned to serve as vice president of exhibitor and guest relations during Expo ’74. He was also Spokane’s mayor from 1993 to 1997.
Their mother, Marlene Conley, volunteered in a dozen organizations during the sisters’ growing-up years, including the Junior League, United Way, Spokane Art School, Christmas Tree Elegance, Catholic Charities and Cheney Cowles Museum.
“I remember when I was probably 7 being dragged down to the Coliseum for the Junior League rummage sale,” Geraghty said. “It was huge. It filled the Coliseum. I watched all those women fold clothes and laugh together.”
Krause remembers: “We got to go on top of the Opera House on opening day of Expo ’74 for the fireworks. I was extremely proud of my dad because he helped create this wonderful event.”
The Geraghty sisters got the message that in life “you get involved in things that can make things better,” Krause said.
Work life: Geraghty worked as a vice president for Sterling Savings Bank until June 2008 and took the job with Salvation Army a few months later.
She had served on boards of agencies that serve low-income families, but working daily with people in poverty has changed her worldview.
“I can get up every single morning and get in my car and leave my nice house and come to my nice job and sail through my day and leave with my smile,” she said.
“But these people do not have transportation. Their kids are going to school without breakfast, in dirty clothes, because they have a barrier and a challenge in their life they can’t overcome. I need to be more understanding of that.
“Sometimes they will work the system, and you have to recognize the people who are working the system and the people who truly need your assistance.
“I’m trying to help these people with dignity, because the mission of the Salvation Army is to serve with dignity without discrimination. I have to live that or else I’m going to be a hypocrite.”
Krause, who returned to Spokane with her family in 1998 when her husband retired from the Air Force, has been volunteer services manager at Catholic Charities Spokane since 2007.
“I was new last year (to the Christmas Bureau) and so was the coordinator, and we were both nervous for set-up day,” she said. “We got there and just stood back and watched. It was like ‘Fraggle Rock’ – the little construction guys who just get to work. It’s always amazing that (volunteers) come back every year. They are so excited to serve these people.”
Working with people in poverty has challenged and changed Krause, as it has Geraghty.
Krause said: “A single person stood in line for two hours to get an $18 voucher and then said, ‘Thank you so much, I’m going to use this for a turkey and invite my mom over.’
“I’ve never had to stand in line for food. It brings you down to earth. You don’t know what in their past got them to this place, whether they are mentally ill, you don’t know. You can’t just look at them and say they are just lazy.
“What I like to do is just listen. A lot of times people don’t listen to them. That’s what I tell the volunteers – just be there.”
Passing it on: The Geraghty grandchildren are getting the message: Give back.
Oldest sister Marcella’s son is an Eagle Scout. Krause’s three boys volunteer; one son traveled to Honduras three years ago to help low-income women come up with a marketing plan for their candle-making business.
Their sister Nora’s daughter, Grace, 8, will help Krause’s family deliver food on Thanksgiving Day, an activity Grace calls “Wheels on Meals.”
Two years ago, Grace’s older brother Macallan helped his Aunt Sheila with turkey distribution day. His question “why do people need free turkeys?” allowed Geraghty a teaching moment about poverty, the importance of giving back – and gratitude.
This Thanksgiving holiday, the Charity Geraghty sisters won’t be shy about expressing gratitude.
“I’m proud of what Krause is doing,” Geraghty said.
Krause, who remembers fighting with her sister only over clothes when they were teens, said: “I feel honored to have her as my sister.”