Last week, as thousands of people worked their way through the lines at the Christmas Bureau, they represented a variety of ages, ethnicities and backgrounds. They had one thing in common: a hope for a happier holiday and an inability to do it on their own.
“It’s important that people understand the real face of poverty,” said Rob McCann, executive director of Catholic Charities, which organizes the bureau in collaboration with Volunteers of America and The Spokesman-Review. “The bureau shows the reality. You wouldn’t be able to pick them out of a crowd. … They’re the people you’re standing behind at Safeway.”
Funded by reader donations and staffed by almost 400 volunteers, the bureau provides books, toys and food vouchers for families in need. It needs to raise $525,000 this year to serve about 35,000 people who come for help.
According to volunteers, the opportunity to help is rewarding and heart-wrenching.
“I’m a former school principal and teacher,” volunteer Jay Walter said. “I really identify with the single mothers and single dads who’re struggling to raise their child.”
Many times, he said, recipients apologize for needing help.
“We say, if you don’t need to come next year, pay it forward, and many of them have offered to do that,” Walter said.
The bureau dashes all stereotypes about people living in poverty, he said.
“There’s a misconception that people are in line to abuse the system and get something free and they really don’t need it. But the greatest majority of the people who stand in line need the support and help,” he said.
“In many people’s eyes, poverty is someone who is lazy and doesn’t work and isn’t trying to be self-sufficient,” added his wife, Kay Walter, who also volunteers. “In reality, you see such a cross-section of people. That perception is changed right away. Some have husbands or wives who are working, but there isn’t enough money to make it through Christmas.”
McCann said the lines at the bureau are filled with people who work and struggle all year. “They are fighting tooth and nail to hang on as best they can and survive,” he said. “They’re fighting for their kids and families.”
That’s a sentiment reiterated by the recipients who wait, sometimes for hours, to pick out one toy and one book for each of their kids and receive a $15 to $30 grocery store voucher to help with Christmas dinner.
“I had a rough year, but I’m getting back on my feet slowly,” said Nina Wattles, who came to choose a present for her 3-year old daughter, Ella. “I lost my job and have been on assistance. I’ve been homeless and left an abusive relationship. … (Ella) has been through a lot and witnessed a lot. But she knows things are getting better and will continue to get better.”
For Wattles, the bureau offers some of that hope. “This means so much to me and my daughter. Something so simple helps so much. Thank you.”
The Christmas Bureau needs your help to reach its $525,000 goal to assist local families for the holidays. Large and small contributions are appreciated.
Scafco Corp., of Spokane, donated $5,000. “Scafco feels this is an extremely important and worthy cause for the Spokane community and is one avenue to give back to Spokane,” Bruce Katahira wrote. “We are very appreciative to the Spokesman-Review for assisting in this wonderful opportunity for people and companies to donate to assist others during the holiday season.”
Robert Kendall, of Spokane, gave $1,000, as did Bill and Sharon Bronson, of Spokane Valley.
The Country Jammers, from Newman Lake, gave $750. “We would also like to challenge any other musical groups or bands to donate the same, more or less to this needy and worthy fund,” wrote the nonprofit band of eight musicians that plays for senior dances and nursing homes. Any donations they receive go to help families and individuals in need. “This year we feel you are the organization that can make a difference to those that are truly in need of help.”
Rick and Virginia Clough, of Spokane, gave $500 in memory of their “beloved Pamela,” who died this year.
Jane Piston gave $485.20.
An anonymous Colbert donor gave $300 on behalf of Dan and Nancy Kessler, Davin and Kelly Petty, and Gary and Leslie Keuffler.
Bob and Judy Lee, of Spokane, gave $250 in memory of Ken Smith, Catherine Lee and Austin McKenzie.
Michael and Josie Dix and family, of Spokane, gave $200, writing, “Merry Christmas to all! Thank you Christmas Bureau volunteers. God bless.”
Marvin and Helen Soehren, of Spokane, gave $200.
Craig Aldworth and Kathryn Hobbs, of Spokane, gave $200, as did Robert and Rose Milhem.
Diane and Gregory Wick, of Mead, gave $100, as did Linda and Gary Faire, of Spokane Valley.
John and Pauline Bafaro, of Nine Mile Falls, gave $100, writing, “Thanks to you and all the volunteers.”
Spokane donors giving $100 include Judith and Jon Gardner, Richard and Alice Hayes, Becky and Jeff Olson, the Jerome Wald family, George and Mary Garvin, George Schroeder and three anonymous donors: one in memory of their parents, one in memory of Paul and Emma Wasson, and one who wrote, “Bless you for the good that you do!”
John and Sarah Griffith gave $96.80 in memory of SFD Engine 9.
Mark and Linda McFall, of Colbert, gave $50, as did Raymond Morrison, of Deer Park, and Bette and F.R. Becker, of Pullman.