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Buying goodies is a craft in itself

Bureau’s toy buyers have become experts at value, quality

When Christmas Bureau gift buyers shop, it’s as if they’re shopping for their own kids. They peruse catalogs, read online reviews and hit the stores to check out products firsthand.

They know the difference between a quality skateboard and one with wheels that will probably break, or that an inflatable ball isn’t a good walking trainer for a baby because it will likely roll backward and knock the infant over.

“We know how cheap is too cheap,” said Janelle Kortlever, noting the three-woman team aims to stretch donated dollars as far as possible while providing quality gifts that are safe, will last and be something children are excited to open on Christmas morning.

It’s a big task. Rather than buying for a few kids, they’re shopping for more than 17,000 children whose parents are expected at the Christmas Bureau this Wednesday through Dec. 21.

The charity, organized by Catholic Charities, Volunteers of America and The Spokesman-Review, is funded by donations from individuals, businesses and families who want to help the less-fortunate in our community have a happy holiday.

After proving residence, parents who come to the bureau can choose one gift per child, birth to age 17, and one book per child, birth to age 14. Each household also receives a food voucher ranging from $15 for one person to $30 for a family of four or more, so they can buy a few fixings for a holiday meal.

The toys, say the buyers, are the best part.

“When we open the boxes on setup day, we’re like kids opening Christmas presents,” said Cheryl Taam, explaining that this is the culmination of months of planning, plotting and purchasing.

“We started in January to get really good deals,” said Reesie Smith. “We’re very budget conscious.”

To ensure they maximize their dollars and have a wide variety of gifts for boys and girls of each age group, the women use a spreadsheet designed by Taam’s son. They use it to track a host of things, from how much the gifts cost to how many batteries they require, with the ability to compare years and see what they have in each category by age and gender.

Next week their yearlong efforts will materialize as a room filled with toys, games, crafts, sporting equipment and other popular items children want for Christmas. Meanwhile, the buyers watch the daily donation tally, hoping the community will come through again.

“The bills come in December,” said Taam. “It’s completely on faith that we can pay the bills for this year’s toys.”

Because they get good discounts, the buyers said a $50 donation could fund, for example, a remote-control helicopter, a family game, a makeup set, an art set and an infant activity walker, from which parents will line up to pick something perfect for their children.

“If you could afford to buy it, you would not go there,” said Smith. “The need is great … to do this is a phenomenal testament to Spokane’s sense of community.”

New donations

Spokane Regional Plan Center donated $3,000, part of a company tradition since 1994. “All one needs to do is read the paper each day to see that the needs of those in our community are great; and every donation is vital,” wrote board Chairman Perry Miller. “We hope you meet your goal and appreciate the dedication of all those who make the Christmas Fund a reality. It epitomizes the true spirit of Christmas giving.”

An anonymous Spokane donor gave $750.

Jon and Pam Ness, of Coeur d’Alene, gave $250, as did an anonymous Spokane donor.

Robert Stanley, of Coeur d’Alene, gave $200 in memory of George and Mildred Stanley and Nort and Elizabeth Hall.

Beverly Massie, of Spokane, gave $200, writing, “May this token given in love help bring joy to others.”

Janine and Brent Carlson, of Spokane, gave $200.

Lou and Mary Haymond, of Nine Mile Falls, gave $150.

Leslie and Meredith Hilby, of Liberty Lake, gave $120. “Thank you for all you do for struggling families. This time of year can be really tough. And you treat all your clients with friendliness and dignity. What a treasure,” they wrote. “Please add our gift to the many others you will receive from members of our community. Together we can do great things!”

Gary and Judy Spangelo, of Cheney, gave $100.

John and Donna Leaming, F.G. and L.K. Browne, Eileen Thorpe, D.E. and Jean Giovanazzi, Valerie and Michael Adams, all of Spokane, gave $100.

Mr. and Mrs. Robert Lingow, of Spokane, gave $100 in memory of their parents and daughter.

Jennifer Calvert, Mary Cameron, and Joan and Don Morse, all of Spokane Valley, gave $100.

Peter and Janet Grossman, of Spokane, gave $60.

Mary and Charles Steen, and Gary Fiscus, all of Liberty Lake, gave $50.

Claire Quiel, of Spokane, gave $50.

M.D. and Martha Breneman, of Spokane, gave $50 in memory of Alberta Murray “so that more children and their families may have a better holiday season.”

Mr. and Mrs. Ernst Pickel, of Spokane, gave $35.

Kathleen Winters, of Cheney, gave $25.

An anonymous Spokane donor gave $25, writing, “I hope this little amount will bring a toy to some little boy or girl and brighten their life.”

Darlene and Pat Reilly, of Spokane Valley, gave $25, as did an anonymous donor.

Alan Fisher, of Cheney, gave $10.

Glenda and James Parks, of Yakima, sent $10 in memory of their son Michael.