On the first day of the Christmas Bureau, Zachary Johnson waited two and a half hours in light rain before he realized he wouldn’t make it through the line before he had to go pick up his son from preschool.
Undeterred, he came back Thursday so he could choose a book and toy for each of his three children and receive a $30 food voucher toward Christmas dinner.
The bureau, funded by reader donations, distributes books, toys and food vouchers to needy families for the holidays, helping about 35,000 people in nine days. On Thursday, 3,811 people were served and just under 2,000 toys were distributed. Grocery vouchers ranging from $15 to $30, depending on family size, were provided for 1,147 households
Marilee Roloff, executive director of Volunteers of America, which organizes the bureau in conjunction with Catholic Charities and The Spokesman-Review, said the first time she saw the lines of people waiting at the bureau, it broke her heart. “I felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach, seeing so many people lined up,” she said. “But look at this kindness and generosity and trying to make a difference in people’s lives.”
Without reader donations that range from a few dollars to thousands, and the efforts of almost 400 volunteers, that difference wouldn’t be possible. “We couldn’t do it without a community of givers,” said Ann Marie Byrd, Catholic Charities development director. “Their support is what allows us to continue this tradition, a tradition they love to rally behind.”
To date, $225,429 of the $525,000 needed has been raised to help families like Johnson’s.
When Johnson was laid off from his construction job three years ago, he started doing odd jobs to make ends meet while his wife, Lucia Crone, went to work at a call center. “My wife was a stay-at-home mom,” he said. “She did what she had to do to survive.”
Now it’s Johnson’s turn to take the kids to and from school and drive his wife to work. He also has a part-time night job at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena, but their combined income is about $1,800 a month, which doesn’t stretch far for a family of five.
As he went through the ID verification process, Johnson greeted and thanked each volunteer, saying “yes, ma’am, thank you, ma’am,” over and over.
At the book and toy tables he searched for gifts to match his kids’ personalities – something for Tori, his 10-year-old tomboy; for Sophia, a 6-year-old “girly-girl”; and Zach, a dinosaur-, train- and car-loving 4-year-old. After four hours of waiting over two days, Johnson found presents he knew they’d like, a gift during what he called “the toughest time of the year.”
The Christmas Bureau, he said simply, “gives our kids hope. Hope for a gift under the tree.”
The surgeons of Providence Northwest Heart and Lung Surgical Associates gave $2,500 “from their hearts to the Spokane community.”
The employees of Vandervert Construction in Spokane donated $2,500 “to help the Spokane community have a brighter holiday season.”
Geraldine Fait, of Spokane, gave $1,000 in memory of her husband, Fred W. Fait, who died March 15, and his family: Geri and Ray Hamilton, Wade and Barbara Hamilton, Deane Hamilton, Jim McNeil and Ronald Hamilton.
Ken Roberts Investment Management gave $1,000, writing, “We are thankful for your efforts on behalf of those that need assistance, and we appreciate all the donors and volunteers of Spokane that work together to make our community a better place for all.”
Justin and Tamie Voelker, of Spokane Valley, gave $1,000.
Dr. and Mrs. Michael Berg, of Spokane, gave $850.
Donald and Charlotte Butler, of Hope, Idaho, gave $500.
The Solan family, of Spokane, gave $500 in memory of their father and husband, Jim, “who traditionally enjoyed walking our check over to the Review office each year,” they wrote. “May it help to make the holidays happier for those less fortunate.”
Judith Hudson, of Spokane, gave $350 in memory of her husband, Mac, “so everyone can have a Merry Christmas.”
Debra and Ralph Prouty, of Spokane, gave $300 in memory of their loving “Mom,” Peggy Gates.
Donald Moore, of Spokane, gave $300.
Mr. and Mrs. Craig Soehren, of Spokane, gave $300.
Gunhild Clegg, of Spokane, gave $300, writing, “It is once again my pleasure to contribute to your very successful Christmas fund. It brings the same awe and joy to so many children, just as someone did for me and my family many years ago!”
Don and Del Ladd, of Spokane, gave $300, as did TEK Manufacturing in Spokane Valley.
Anna Murphy, of Spokane, gave $200 in memory of her husband, Patrick Murphy, who died of cancer this year.
Lola Lile, of Spokane, gave $200 in memory of Ellen and Robert Houx, “whose giving nature was so inspirational in my life,” she wrote.
Harold and Heidi Clarke, of Spokane, gave $200.
Sarah and Emma Vogelman at Sticky Fingers Bakeries, of Spokane, gave $200.
An anonymous Valleyford donor gave $175 “in memory of my father Donald Johnson and my niece Devin Johnson.”
Denise Mutschler, of Cheney, gave $150.
Christine Carroll, of Spokane, gave $100. “I wish the spirit of giving was with all of us year round,” she wrote.
Ronald and Linda Johnson, of Spokane, gave $100.
Elinor Iverson, of Spokane, gave $100, writing, “Thank you for helping those in need.”
Lorraine Queener gave $96.80, as did an anonymous donor.
Catherine Lundberg, of Spokane, gave $85.
Francois and Consuelo Thiriez, of Spokane, gave $75.
An anonymous Cheney donor gave $50.
Gladys and Mike Alfano, of Spokane, gave $50 in memory of Jerry Alfano. “This is our first year without our mom. She loved her great-grands so much! Thanks for taking care of our community,” they wrote.
Ruby Niemeyer, of Spokane, gave $50. “I hope this will be a toy for a needy child,” she wrote.
Marlene Nelson, of Spokane Valley, gave $50 in memory of her husband, Bob.
Margaret Muat gave $48.25.