November 29, 2011 in City

Bureau plugs in to core mission

Software, network help keep focus on clients
The Spokesman-Review
 
Colin Mulvany photoBuy this photo

In the basement of St. Anne’s Children and Family Center, volunteer Ben Wadden helps set up and test donated computer equipment for this year’s Christmas Bureau.
(Full-size photo)

To donate

• By mail: Spokesman-Review Christmas Bureau, P.O. Box 516, Spokane, WA 99210

• Online: spokesman.com/christmas-fund. Online donations can be made with a PayPal account or credit card (a processing charge of 2.9 percent plus 30 cents will be deducted from such donations).

• In person: Deliver your donation to the guard in the lobby of the S-R offices in Spokane at 999 W. Riverside Ave. or in Coeur d’Alene at 608 Northwest Blvd.

How to give

By mail: Donations may be sent to The Spokesman-Review Christmas Fund, P.O. Box 516, Spokane, WA 99210.

In person: Deliver your donation to the guard in the lobby of the Spokesman-Review offices in downtown Spokane (999 W. Riverside Ave.) or Coeur d’Alene (608 Northwest Blvd., Suite 200).

Online: Readers can donate via PayPal at www.spokesman.com/sections/christmas-fund. If you donate online, PayPal will deduct 30 cents plus 2.9 percent of your gift for its service.

ID requirements

• Christmas Bureau recipients face no income requirements, but each adult and child who receives a gift must meet identification requirements.

• Adults must bring photo ID for themselves and every person living in the household older than 18. In addition, each adult must show their latest utility bill, phone bill or rent receipt, which must list their name and current physical address. (P.O. boxes are not accepted as addresses.)

• For children, bring a document from a school, day-care center, DSHS office or another social service agency verifying each child’s name, address and date of birth. WIC folders are also accepted as ID for children.

Note: Social Security cards are not valid identification for the Christmas Bureau.

If you go

Where: Spokane County Fair & Expo Center, 404 N. Havana.

Time: 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Dates: Dec 9-10, Dec. 12-17 and Dec. 19-20. The bureau is closed Sundays.

If volunteers serve as the heart of the Christmas Bureau, its computer network might serve as the brain.

And after undergoing some surgery, the network has emerged smarter and faster, bureau organizers say. That’s crucial to the charity’s operation – and to helping volunteers concentrate on treating recipients with compassion rather than struggling with their keyboards.

“Everything we do is designed to provide a positive experience for clients who come to the bureau, knowing it’s probably not their first choice,” said Hal Ellis, 76, of Spokane, who helps lead the bureau’s team of data-entry volunteers.

The bureau, paid for with donations to the newspaper’s Christmas Fund, gives children’s books, toys and grocery vouchers to people in need for Christmas. It begins Dec. 9 at the Spokane County fairgrounds.

The computer network is composed of a “hodgepodge” of donated equipment, bureau coordinator Judy Lee said – a server, about 15 computers and a few printers.

It works thanks largely to the efforts of volunteer Ben Wadden. Taking up the task about five years ago, Wadden wrote new software for the bureau and streamlined the network. He and some helpers started boxing together computers and printers that they knew worked together, rather than repeating an annual trial-and-error session. They added new cables.

They turned a system that had caused headaches for bureau organizers into one that’s “embarrassingly easy” to set up, Wadden said. He is a senior developer at InterTech Pro, which is donating his time and the time of a few colleagues to set up the network starting Monday.

Organizers planned today to process the bureau’s first set of grocery vouchers, about 350 to be distributed to homebound low-income people who can’t make it to the fairgrounds.

As the bureau evolves – organizers have added a separate computer station to serve people with disabilities, for example – Wadden and his helpers continue to tweak the system and ensure its operation.

Each person who visits the Christmas Bureau provides information including their address, their children’s ages and genders, and their household’s total income. That information is entered into computers by volunteers, which can be a “standoffish” experience for recipients who’ve already waited in line, sometimes for hours, to be served.

Better software on a stable network makes it easier for volunteers to do their job – which is to listen to recipients’ stories and treat them kindly while entering their data into a computer, Ellis said.

Wadden’s software also helps maintain the accuracy of the bureau’s records. And it lets coordinators track who has been served and anticipate who’ll seek help the following year – which helps them set fundraising goals and purchase the right number of toys for each age group.

The software also gives organizers information about recipients’ household incomes – in 2010, the average was $1,003 a month. It tells them where recipients live: While the bureau has no residency requirements, the vast majority of those served last year lived in Spokane County, although 49 of the 10,700 families served lived in North Idaho.

Because the software tracks recipients according to their addresses, which recipients must demonstrate using approved documentation, it also helps prevent anyone from using the charity more than once a year.

Donations

The names of donors to the Christmas Fund will be published daily in the newspaper until the fund closes at the end of the year. Donors who wish to remain anonymous should indicate their wishes in a note accompanying their gift.

The following donations to the Christmas Fund were among those received since the close of last year’s fund. They bring the fund to $26,511.96.

Stan and June Olson, of Spokane, gave $7,500.

The Spokesman-Review editorial department gave $1,041.50, money raised through its “freebie sale.”

The Kappa Chapter of Alpha Delta Kappa gave $1,000.

The Guy and Ruth Reed Memorial Fund at Inland Northwest Community Foundation gave $880.

Garco Construction gave $300.

The Bath & Body Works store at the Spokane Valley Mall gave $100.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email