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Christmas Bureau’s self-described Grinch secretly Santa

Mon., Dec. 2, 2013, midnight

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At the beginning of December, Paul Dorning feels a little like the Grinch.

“I’m not much into the commercialization of Christmas,” he explained. “The Christmas Bureau is my salve, my balm, during Christmas.”

The Christmas Bureau is a 68-year-old charity organized by Catholic Charities, Volunteers of America and The Spokesman-Review, and funded entirely by donations from Spokesman-Review readers so almost 10,000 less-fortunate families can have a merry Christmas. It needs to raise $525,000 this holiday season.

At the Bureau, people in need select one toy for each of their children and receive one book for each child through age 14. Each household also receives a grocery voucher of $15 to $30, based on family size, so they can buy fixings for Christmas dinner.

Because of the efforts of more than 400 volunteers like Dorning, about 96 percent of the money raised goes directly for toys, books and food vouchers.

“Our administrative costs are amazingly low,” Christmas Bureau coordinator Judy Lee said. “We work really hard to keep that at 4 percent.”

Said Dorning: “People should know that the Christmas Bureau is real efficient and those dollars do a lot of good in terms of making sure the kids have good presents, not cheap, crummy presents.”

The Christmas Bureau has become a holiday tradition for Dorning. His mom, Virginia Dorning, volunteered at the bureau for years, even before the charity had computers to process the food vouchers. His wife, Nancy, has also volunteered.

When Dorning retired after working 26 years with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he wanted to volunteer as well.

“I’ve always enjoyed working with people, being face to face, helping older people and kids, so it was a natural fit,” Dorning said. “I really like seeing the responses of people when you help them, especially the kids. It’s an uplifting experience.”

Though he’d long been aware of how the charity has helped low-income families have a brighter holiday, Dorning said when he first volunteered about seven years ago he was “flabbergasted by the number of people that came in and obviously needed help. Spokane is a generous town, and to see the droves of people blew me away.”

Helping those people, he said, fills him with the Christmas spirit.

“All the extraneous pressure all of us face at Christmas drives me kind of nuts. The Christmas Bureau solves that for me,” he said.

“Having grown up poor myself, a lot of times people that are in the lower economic areas, their aspirations kind of drop,” he continued. “It’s a welcome surprise when they come to the Christmas Bureau and get a quality present that they may not have been able to do any other way. It makes them feel like regular folks, like they should feel.”

According to Christmas Bureau organizers, Dorning treats everyone he meets with respect and kindness. Along with other like-minded volunteers, his presence helps give the charity an atmosphere of goodwill.

“I wouldn’t refer to Paul as the Grinch. No way,” volunteer coordinator Brigid Krause said. “He’s steady. He’s real patient with everybody, with the other volunteers and with the recipients. … He’s a quiet, compassionate man. He’s one of those guys that has a twinkle in his eye. I see him more as a quiet Santa than as a Grinch.”

New donations

The following donations were received after the Christmas Bureau fundraising closed in 2012, giving a kick-start to this year’s efforts.

The Klaue Family Foundation, of Spokane, donated $15,000. “This year, the fourth recession holiday season in a row, has proven to be a very challenging year for many to include but not be limited to many businesses, families, benefactors and beneficiaries alike. This global recession knows no bounds. We are very thankful we are able to continue to contribute and be a part of a program that brings joy, brightness and many blessings to the families and organizations in need,” they wrote.

“The spirit and generosity of the Spokane community has helped many families experience the true meaning of Christmas. The benevolent providence and gift of giving back to assist those less fortunate, especially in these unprecedented economic times, is very rewarding.”

Rick Betts, of Spokane, gave four gifts via United Way during the year, totaling $2,321.39.

David Schaub, of Spokane, donated $1,000, writing, “To kick off the Christmas Fund drive, and on behalf of my family, I am happy to make this donation. Thank you for the work that you do to spread cheer during the holiday season.”

The Spokesman-Review editorial department raised and donated $895 through its Freebie Sale.

Residents at Fairwinds Retirement, of Spokane, donated $64 in cash. “Please accept this donation as a small token of appreciation of our recent tour of the Christmas Bureau,” they wrote. “We enjoyed our tour and appreciate all you do for our community.”

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