From holiday cards to Christmas carols, the season resounds with wishes for “peace on Earth.” In Spokane, the Christmas Bureau represents a slice of that peace as the community works together to provide toys, books and food vouchers for needy families.
The Christmas Bureau is a philanthropic partnership among Catholic Charities, Volunteers of America and The Spokesman- Review, funded by donations from newspaper readers so approximately 10,000 low-income families in our area have a happier holiday. To date, the fundraising effort has raised 22 percent of the $525,000 needed by Christmas.
While donations come from a broad cross-section of people, bureau volunteers also represent how people of different races, religions and backgrounds can work together for a common good. Some volunteers say they’re surprised by how many people have the misconception that only Catholics help at the charity.
That’s what Sally Olson thought before a friend recruited her and her husband, Randy, seven years ago.
“Before we started at the bureau I thought I could never volunteer there,” she said, adding, “I’ve run into a lot of different volunteers of different faiths there. … There is just a good mix.”
Mick Soss, for example, is a Jewish man who’s volunteered at the bureau for 14 years.
“If you can make some time during your lifetime to go out and assist others or help the community, it’s a real positive experience and it’s something that’s one of the standards of Judaism,” said Soss, who recruited Hal Ellis to join him when Ellis moved to Spokane in 2002 and joined Temple Beth Shalom.
“If you look at it, the bureau is the essence of the Judeo-Christian ethic,” explained Ellis, which he said fits with the “tikkun olam” tenet of Judaism. “That literally means to heal the world, to do things, to give back.”
For Ellis, the Christmas Bureau shows that philosophy and the spirit of this season. “Christmas is a time of joy, a time of giving, of sharing, of good will for men. It’s embodied in this time of the year,” he said.
“I don’t know of any other community where I’ve seen an activity like the bureau, a charity completely community-supported, no outside money and it goes on for 60 years and grows and provides an incredible experience without any regard for where you come from,” Ellis said. “We serve everybody who comes through the door regardless of their ethnicity or religious affiliation.”
According to the Olsons, that’s why working with people of different faiths and backgrounds at the bureau is so important.
“We volunteered because we believe in our community and helping the people no matter what faith or persuasion,” said Randy Olson.
“It helps that we’re mixed on both sides,” said Sally Olson. “We are all in the same hands. We live in the same place and we’re here for the same reasons, to be a community and to help each other.”
The law offices of Douglas, Eden, Phillips, DeRuyter and Stanyer, of Spokane, sent $5,000. “For over 20 years, it has been our privilege to join with others in the community to support the Fund and help spread joy and goodwill to families in need,” they wrote.
Tim and Sally Quirk, of Spokane, gave $500 “in appreciation for, and in recognition of, the many years of volunteering at the Christmas Bureau by Nancy Gillespie.”
Mike and Rita Gibson, of Spokane, gave $500 “in joyous anticipation for a new addition to our family.”
Dee and Bob Griffith, of Veradale, gave $500.
Sam and Jane Joseph gave $485.20.
John and Whitney Sestero, of Spokane, donated $250.
Donald and Eleanor Limmer, gave $200, as did an anonymous Spokane donor.
Douglas Richardson and Richard Myers, both of Spokane, each gave $150.
Larry and Diana Helmer, of Colbert, gave $100, as did Patricia Dretke, of Kettle Falls, Wash.
Doloris and Nels Nelson, of Liberty Lake, gave $100 in memory of Brandon.
Leslie and Donna Dickman, of Rathdrum, gave $100.
Three anonymous Spokane donors gave $100.
Miriam Finnegan, of Spokane, donated $100 in memory of “my husband Col. Jack Finnegan.”
An anonymous Spokane Valley donor gave $100.
Jan Eastman, of Spokane Valley, sent $100 “to help make the holidays brighter!”
Michael and Sandra Povich gave $100.
William Stanley gave $96.80, as did William Cowles.
Marlene Westhoff, of Spokane, sent $75.
Laura and Steven Nestoss, of Greenacres, and Bill and Karol Maier, of Liberty Lake, gave $50.
J.L. and Cheryl Sherick and Greg Schuster, all of Spokane, gave $50.
Gary and Cheryl Allen, of Spokane Valley, gave $50.
An anonymous Spokane Valley donor gave $50 in memory of “my son Jim, who loved Christmas.”
Mr. and Mrs. Anderson, of St. Albert, Alberta, gave $50 in memory of Larry Dean, who died this year.
An anonymous donor gave $50.
An anonymous Spokane donor gave $40 “in memory of my parents, John and Emma Peereboom.”
Glen and Carol Ellsworth, of Colbert, and Shirley Schoenleber, of Spokane, gave $25, as did an anonymous donor.