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Help during tight times

Volunteer Miranda Carolus knows firsthand about struggling at Christmas. (Colin Mulvany)
Volunteer Miranda Carolus knows firsthand about struggling at Christmas. (Colin Mulvany)

Christmas Bureau aid ensures something new to open on Christmas

For Taylor and Chandler Lear the best part of Christmas is setting up the tree, especially choosing a prominent place to display the homemade ornaments that have their pictures on them.

“I made mine a silver snowflake,” explained Taylor, 12, describing how he pasted a picture of himself at age 7 in the middle of the ornament, with sequins and pipe cleaner to make it sparkle. “We put them on the front area of the tree.”

They enjoy other traditions too, like watching “A Christmas Story” on Christmas Eve with their sister Alexia Ferguson, 14, who makes coffee for her mom first thing Christmas morning before the kids eagerly open their presents.

“Last year, Taylor and I got Nerf swords,” said Chandler, 10. Taylor quickly ran to get the swords, which he’d wrapped in black electrical tape last summer so they would last a little longer. This season, Airsoft guns top the boys’ Christmas wish lists.

“I usually just hope I get something cool,” Taylor added.

Like previous Christmases, the kids will each receive a gift from the Christmas Bureau, said their mom, Miranda Carolus, 31.

The Christmas Bureau, which runs at the fairgrounds from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Dec 12-15 and 17-21, excluding Sundays, distributes food vouchers, books and toys to families in need. It’s funded by donations from Spokesman-Review readers to bring holiday cheer to less-fortunate families. The charity is a collaborative effort between Catholic Charities, Volunteers of America and The Spokesman-Review.

For Carolus, 31, the Christmas Bureau ensures her kids get to experience the joy of opening a brand new present, something that’s difficult to provide when their household of six is living off her husband’s restaurant manager income and part of her college funding.

She will graduate in June with a degree in social work and is currently working at the House of Charity, a program of Catholic Charities, for her practicum. Her dad, who also lives with them, is applying for Social Security benefits.

With limited income, if it weren’t for the Christmas Bureau, Carolus said, “this Christmas may have to wait until January.”

Trying to find a way to give her kids presents for Christmas reminds Carolus of the Christmas when she was 8 or 9. Her dad was out of work and they were living on her mom’s part-time income. Times were tight.

“There was no money for presents. My mom and dad were upset because they couldn’t do anything,” she recalled. “Dad put up the lights for me and we sat around and made Christmas wreaths out of garlands.”

A store owner had given them leftover pieces that would have been thrown away, said Carolus, describing how they sold the wreaths door-to-door for two weeks.

“On Christmas morning there were presents under the tree” because of those wreath sales, she said. “When I wrap presents I think of how much my parents went through to make sure I had something on Christmas.”

Now, Carolus said, it’s her turn to make sure her children have something to open and she’s grateful for the Christmas Bureau. “I try to keep Christmas very special,” she said. “For that brief moment it’s just kind of serene.”

And in an effort to give back, Carolus is volunteering time at the bureau and at Toys for Tots.

“I can’t donate money or toys but I can help bag the toys people are getting,” she said. “There are so many people who are desperate for anything. I feel guilty that other people need it. We could get by without it. But I want for them to have a happy Christmas.”