Leaning across a table stacked with children’s books, retired first-grade teacher Joy Painter held a book out for a parent to examine. For her it was upside-down, a reading skill honed by teachers everywhere. But the mom could read the words as Painter pointed out the difficulty level and summarized the story.
Painter is one of a team of retired teachers and librarians who volunteer behind the book tables at the Christmas Bureau, which provides books, toys and food vouchers for needy families. Bureau recipients select one toy for each of their children through age 17 and one book for each child through age 14. Each household also receives a voucher for $15 to $30 to use at local stores, based on family size, so they can buy fixings for a Christmas dinner.
On Monday, the bureau served 3,689 people, with gifts provided for 1,796 children and food vouchers totaling $27,835. In its first five days of operation, the bureau has served 20,911 people and distributed vouchers totaling $151,000. The bureau is open through Friday.
For the parents who visit the bureau, the volunteer expertise makes book selection a breeze.
“They are experts at helping parents select books,” said Marilee Roloff, executive director of Volunteers of America, which organizes the bureau in collaboration with Catholic Charities and The Spokesman-Review.
“I look at them with total gratitude, because they know what kids like,” she said, adding, “and they can tell by a parent’s face if they want help or don’t need any help. They can read the parent, too.”
The books are arranged by age.
For little boys, Painter said the dinosaur books have been popular, though many parents gravitate toward classics. “They remember the books they loved to read as a child,” she said.
Down in the teen section, retired middle school librarian Marilyn Smith lends her expertise, a job she relishes so much she flew back from snow-birding in Arizona so she could volunteer.
“I love matching people with books,” she said with a smile, noting she asks a little about the child’s age and interests. Her hope, she said “is that they will want to pick up other books to read. I want them to keep reading.”
“I could not do this without them,” Tana Carosella, who heads the book area, said of the volunteers. “They help me choose the popular books, the best books we can buy for a good price.”
The team of retired teachers, she said, meets in June at the Scholastic warehouse in Spokane Valley. There they spend a day going through stacks of books to decide what to buy. Together, Scholastic Inc. and the local Scholastic warehouse donated 8,763 children’s books, stretching the charities’ dollars.
For retired elementary school teacher Larry Marlett, who also volunteers, it’s exciting to know kids are going to discover wonderful stories because of the bureau.
“Kids need something at Christmastime and what better springboard for reading and for connecting children with parents. … Books bring you together and that’s what we want as teachers,” he said. “If we have a part in that, it’s fantastic.”
American West Bank donated $7,500. Last week President Keith Western and communications director Kelly McPhee toured the bureau. “It was humbling and amazing all at once,” said McPhee. “When Keith and I pulled up there was a line outside standing in the cold. It just absolutely hit me right in the core.
“Keith was really impressed how everyone was treated with dignity,” she continued. “There is such a tremendous need and we felt like we were in a position to give more and pay that forward.”
The Onion and Frank’s Diner restaurants donated $6,560. The restaurant crew donated $3,280 through voluntary payroll deductions and the owners matched that amount. “We are thrilled that even during tough economic conditions our crew members this year still raised $3,280 for the Spokesman and $3,200 for nearly 30 other local organizations in need around our community,” wrote Ken and Christy Belisle and Larry and Jan Brown. “May we all continue to seek ways to make Spokane a better place to live for everyone.”
An anonymous Spokane donor gave $5,000. “Thank you for continuing this wonderful work. You are truly God’s hands on each – sharing the love and joy He brought to all. We will continue to give as long as we are able,” the donor wrote.
Witherspoon Kelley, of Spokane gave $5,000.
Premera Blue Cross gave $5,000, writing, “Our company’s charitable contribution decisions are made by a committee of employees who also are active in community events.”
Wagstaff Inc., of Spokane Valley, gave $1,000.
Jane and Keith Slater gave $1,000.
An anonymous Spokane donor gave $500 in memory of family and friends who have passed on, writing, “We have been very blessed this year and are thrilled to be able to help others.”
Members of United Transportation Union Local 426, of Spokane, gave $500. These train employees wrote, “we feel your Christmas Fund is the best way to give to those in need in our community this holiday season.”
An anonymous Spokane donor gave $500.
An anonymous Spokane donor gave $350. “Thank you for all the good work you do to help others,” she wrote.
Lawrence and Joanna Kiewert, of Deer Park, gave $300.
Robert and Anita Lamp, of Spokane, gave $300 in memory of Linda Barnes. “She was our neighbor, our close friend, and a lady who always cared about helping those in need.”
An anonymous Saltese donor gave $250, as did an anonymous Spokane donor. Also giving $250 were Donald Tuttle, of Spokane, and Carolyn and James Craven, of Spokane.
Shirley and Matt Alling, of Spokane, gave $200 in memory of “our parents that provided well for us during the holidays. No child deserves to go without at Christmas!”
Esther Nelson, of Spokane Valley, gave $200, writing, “How wonderful God is using His people to care for the less fortunate.”
Gini and Tom Burns and family gave $200, writing, “May our gift bring comfort and joy to other families in our community.”
Mary Kay and Dawes Eddy gave $200.
Barbara and David Floyd, of Newport, gave $150.
Barry Bergau, of Spokane, gave $150 in the name of Debbie and Terry Montgomery.
Dick and Donita Day, of Spokane, gave $150, as did an anonymous donor who wrote, “Many thanks for all the time and effort put into the successful running of the bureau.”
Joan and Doug Menzies, of Spokane, gave $150.
Kenneth and Helen Evans, of Mead, gave $100.
Dennis and Shirley Anderson, of Rudyard, Mont., gave $100 in memory of their granddaughter Alexi.
The Fulgaro family (Patti, Tony, Nicholas, Faith and Jasper), gave $100. “Thank you for spreading the Christmas Spirit,” they wrote.
Ray Liberg, of Spokane, gave $100 in memory of his wife, Helen Liberg.
An anonymous Spokane donor gave $100, writing, “my husband and I are not normally in a position to donate. However, we received an unexpected inheritance last month and take great delight in being able to share a bit with the less-fortunate in our city. It does our hearts good to know these funds will be used locally.”
Other Spokane donors giving $100 were James and Margo Walesby, Harriett Jacobson, Nita and Gordy Alexander, Leeanne Stallings, Jerry Traynham, Brent Hoogner and Gay Waldman-Hoogner, Donna Troyer, and C. Longoria, who gave “to help people in my community.”
Spokane Valley donors giving $100 were Stephen Lucas, A.T. and C.K. Woodard, an anonymous donor who gave in memory of Vera Actor, and Vernon and Donna Knudsen, who wrote “I just read that the combined governor’s races spent $25,700,000 during their campaigns. What a difference that amount of money would make in the lives of the needy. I enclose $100; so, only $25,699,900 to go.”
Vicki Kitley gave $96.80, as did Ken Wiedmer.
Parker, Conner, Jack and Buddy Slater gave $80.
Spokane donors giving $75 were Alan and Sue Lesher, Doneen Trust, and Lyle Pugh, who gave $75 in memory of his wife, Barbara Pugh.
Sara Jones, of Cheney, gave $50, as did Vasa North Star Lodge No. 145, of Coeur d’Alene, and Marty Beresford and Susane Tuson, of Colbert.
Three anonymous donors gave $50, one in memory of her husband, “who played Santa for his young nieces and nephews years ago,” she wrote. “Thank you for helping other children have a happier and Merry Christmas.”
Spokane donors giving $50 were Mr. and Mrs. William Hale and Robert English.
Spokane Valley donors giving $50 were Jane and Douglas Savadalena, Jeff and Brenda Danner, and Janelle Baker, who gave in memory of her first and only grandson, Tavaris Champ Johnson, who was born and died on 12/29/11. “I thought there would be toys under my tree for him. Since I can’t do that, I hope to make another child happy for Christmas,” she wrote.
Karsten Stucke, 9, and Dashiell Stucke, 5, gave $50 cash with a card that read, “My brother Dashiell and I have saved $50 for kids in need.”
Sallie Sears gave $48.25.
Dalton and Karen Jassman, of Spokane, gave $30.
Roger and Linda Rivers, of Newman Lake, gave $25, as did Kathy Nix and Kerry Potter, of Spokane Valley.
Spokane donors giving $25 were Thelma Woods, Harry and Bonnie Larrison, who gave in memory of Leai and Tiff, and three anonymous donors, one in memory of Ethyl Barstow. “She was dedicated to serving others, and was a wonderful first grade teacher for many years,” they wrote.
Brad Smith gave $20.