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Christmas Bureau volunteer Don Kelly remembered for compassion

Kelly in 2008
Kelly in 2008

Don Kelly was a quiet man. Whether driving an elderly woman to the doctor, spending time with his family or helping an impoverished mom at the Christmas Bureau, Kelly didn’t need many words to show he cared.

“He was so warm,” said Ann Marie Byrd, Catholic Charities development director. “He was present to folks. He made you feel important, that you were the most important thing in his world at that moment.”

For more than two decades that quiet compassion infused everything Kelly did as a volunteer at the Christmas Bureau, from buying batteries and driving the toy truck to helping a mom carry toys to her car.

Volunteering at the charity, which Kelly also co-chaired for a couple of years, was a holiday tradition he cherished. In October, he’d already filled out his volunteer form when he died after a stroke.

“He had such a deep love for the Christmas Bureau. He looked forward to it every year,” Byrd said. “He will be missed dearly. He was so graceful with every individual. He treated everybody the same. He was respectful and compassionate, a great listener. It calms you when you have a presence like that.”

Funded by reader donations, the Christmas Bureau distributes toys, books and food vouchers to families in need for the holidays. The charity, organized by Volunteers of America, Catholic Charities and The Spokesman-Review, needs to raise $525,000 by Christmas so it can serve almost 10,000 less-fortunate families this season.

According to Catholic Charities Executive Director Rob McCann, Kelly was inspirational in both demeanor and actions and was one of the reasons the charity is so efficient and welcoming today.

“He was a gentle giant. People looked up to him literally and figuratively,” McCann said. “He was one of the leaders behind modernizing the Christmas Bureau. He made it a much smoother, more effective place.”

Kelly implemented inventory control, for example, that enabled the toy buyers to tailor their orders based on which toys flew off the shelves the fastest, and he implemented processes to minimize the time recipients spend waiting in line.

“He really sought out ways he could make it better, to streamline the process so more folks were served in a more timely fashion,” Byrd said.

But Kelly wasn’t picky about where he worked at the bureau. He was known for pitching in wherever needed, said his widow, Diane Kelly.

“He got a lot of joy from the Christmas Bureau,” she said. “He loved it all: breaking down boxes, greeting people. It didn’t matter to him what he was doing. He was just a doer. … He lived what he believed.”

Last year, Kelly continued his commitment to caring by starting a new Christmas tradition with his wife. At Thanksgiving, the couple gave each of their seven children and 19 grandchildren $10 and a mission: Find a need and fill it.

“That money went all over the world,” Diane Kelly said.

From South America to Arizona to Spokane, the money helped buy lunch for an elderly person, hay for a ranch that serves orphans, help toward medical expenses for a burn victim and toys for low-income children.

“It’s amazing how far that money goes to make a better life for someone,” said Diane Kelly, noting they wanted their family to think about others, something her husband modeled without words.

“He lived his life by what he did,” she said, adding that he will be remembered as living his favorite quote, attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.”

New donations

Robert and Deborah Glaza, of Spokane Valley, gave $250.

The Sunday Morning Breakfast Group, of Spokane, gave $150.

Amy Lutz, of Spokane, donated $121.07 via PayPal.

Dean and Mary Duncan, of Spokane, gave $100.

John Cooper, of Spokane Valley, gave $96.80 via PayPal.

Janice Eastman, of Spokane Valley, contributed $75.

John Chasse, of Spokane, gave $72.52 via PayPal.

Patricia and Clinton Degenhart, of Spokane, gave $50.

Liz Russell, of Spokane, also donated $50. “Thanks for your great efforts for Spokane!” she wrote. “Please accept this in memory of my parents Chuck and Joy White, who made a positive difference in their community and taught me to help my neighbors.”

Victor Buksbazen, of Spokane, gave $25.

An anonymous Spokane donor contributed $20 in memory of Richard “Dick” Olsen.

Judith Horton, of Coeur d’Alene, contributed $5.

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