On Christmas Eve, when Hailey Poutiatine was 6 or 7 years old, she asked to sing for her gathered family, sparking a new holiday tradition.
“I just wanted to sing some carols,” the teen said, describing how she’d stand by the mantel and sing for her parents, aunts, uncles and cousins. “Later on I planned it out. It popped into my head that it could be a charity concert.”
Wanting something local, she chose the Christmas Bureau as the beneficiary. “I could contribute to other people’s Christmas,” she said. “I want the people who don’t have what I have to have a good Christmas.”
The Christmas Bureau provides needy families with a toy for each child, a book for children through age 14, and food vouchers ranging from $15 to $30, depending on household size.
It’s a philanthropic partnership of Catholic Charities, Volunteers of America and The Spokesman-Review and is funded entirely by donations from newspaper readers.
Last year the charity gave holiday assistance to 32,060 people, 16,124 of them children. Similar numbers are expected this year. To meet that need the charity must raise $525,000 by Christmas, with 96 percent of that going directly to purchase the toys, books and food vouchers that will be distributed at the fairgrounds between Dec. 11 and Dec. 20.
For Poutiatine, now 14, giving to the Christmas Bureau has become a holiday tradition. After she plays the guitar and sings several holiday songs, her relatives pass a hat for donations that are destined for the charity.
“I like the attention so it’s not so everyone’s eyes can be on me,” Poutiatine said with a smile. “I’m glad it’s going somewhere, so I don’t have to feel like a brat.”
Last year her concert raised $372, supplemented by an additional $79 she saved from her allowance over the year.
“We’re proud of her selfless nature,” said her mom, Sally. “Everyone looks forward to the concert, especially her cousins. They break out their wallets. …When she was little, she was a cute, funny kid who liked to perform. Now she has a big heart and wants to share and they want to help out.”
A natural performer, Poutiatine said her music is influenced by an eclectic group of musicians, including Pink Floyd, REM, Coldplay, Counting Crows, Neil Young, Fleet Foxes, Boy & Bear and Gregory Alan Isakov. She takes voice and guitar lessons and participates in musical theater at school as well, so she can perform anything from classical to jazz to her favorite genre, indie folk.
“I’m getting my own musical sense lately,” she said, noting she’s writing some of her own music and arrangements.
Following her musical interests she’ll usually learn at least one new song or arrangement for the Christmas Eve concert, which she said has matured as she has.
She’s finger-picked “Coventry Carol” and sang the Spanish version of “Silent Night,” for example, and one year she learned “Veni, Veni Emmanuel” in Latin.
“I love singing Christmas carols. It’s amazing there’s so much literature around one holiday. One event inspired all these people,” she said.
No matter how much her Christmas repertoire changes, Poutiatine said she always sings “O Holy Night” a capella. “It’s most powerful when I’m not accompanied,” she explained. “The vulnerability of the song is rounded out by not being accompanied.”
It’s a concert that epitomizes the Christmas spirit of giving, from the donations she raises for Spokane’s families in need to the music she shares with her family.
“Creativity is something that’s meant to be shared,” Poutiatine said. “I like sharing what I have with people.”