When Chris Pittella, 18, was little he had a stuffed gorilla named Joe.
“I still have it,” the Central Valley High School senior said. “He was my best friend. I would take him around everywhere. When we’d go to Seattle and on road trips I’d have him sitting in the car seat next to me.”
Pittella and his classmates hope to give that kind of stuffed love to Spokane’s children in need this Christmas.
For the third year, the school’s Technology Student Association held a stuffed animal drive to collect donations for the Christmas Bureau, a local charity that gives toys, books and food vouchers to almost 10,000 less-fortunate families.
Funded by reader donations and staffed with about 400 volunteers, the charity, which is organized by Catholic Charities, Volunteers of America and The Spokesman-Review, served more than 32,000 people last year. It needs to raise $525,000 this season.
“It’s a good cause,” said Pittella, noting the student body at Central Valley has responded by bringing a lot of stuffed animals for the low-income families that come to the bureau. “It’s been a really good reaction over here. This school is good in general about charities and drives like that, so when you call on the student body to donate to stuff, they rise to it happily.”
According to club adviser Alan Wardsworth, the project is usually an eye-opening experience for the students. He asks them to think about their fondest memory of a Christmas present.
“Then I hit them with, ‘What if you didn’t get anything for Christmas?’ ” he said, noting some of the 75 students in the club will tour the bureau when they drop off the stuffed animals during setup on Tuesday. The bureau opens to recipients Wednesday.
Wardsworth said they hope to bring about 1,000 stuffed toys and more than $90 in cash for the charity.
“It’s a fun project we do,” he said. “It gets the kids involved and thinking about giving back during Christmas.”
For Pittella, it’s a way to help children experience happy moments like what he remembers with Joe the gorilla.
“Usually a first toy is a teddy bear or stuffed animal. This helps needy families give that kid something to cuddle up with at night,” Pittella said. “Every kid should have that one childhood object. It might seem very insignificant to us but to a little kid it’s the world to them. … These are needy families who can’t afford presents for Christmas, and this provides them a Christmas they will hopefully remember.”
The Christmas Bureau is funded entirely by reader donations, with 96 percent of contributions going directly to purchase toys, books and $15 to $30 food vouchers, depending on family size. After processing, all contributions are reported in the newspaper, including the following new donations:
Landmark Restaurants donated $5,500. Continuing a tradition of several decades, the restaurant crews of Frank’s Diner and The Onion Bar and Grill donated $2,750, which was matched by the owners. “Even during these tough economic conditions, our crew not only donated to you, but managed to raise an additional $2,670 that will go to nearly 30 other local organizations in need around our community,” Ken Belisle wrote.
Ronald and Shirley Schoenberger, of Spokane, donated $1,375, writing, “It’s been 27 years since we made our first contribution to The Spokesman-Review Christmas Fund. Our original contribution was small, but within our budget and an amount we were comfortable with. When we made our first contribution we agreed to increase our contribution by 10 percent each succeeding year. Your continued commitment to the citizens of our wonderful community will make this a better holiday season for thousands of people who might not otherwise receive a gift. Thank you for all you do.”
Matthew Root, of Pullman, gave $1,000 “in loving memory of my wife, Sarah More. Sarah always helped others, especially during the holidays.”
Janet and Cyrus Vaughn, of Spokane, gave $1,000, as did Rings and Things, which donated a combination of employee and corporate contributions.
“Like many businesses, Rings and Things employees participate in a voluntary payroll deduction plan to make our year-end contributions nearly painless. Rings and Things also helps to increase their donation,” they wrote. “Rings and Things employees are reminded daily that too many people in our community do not have adequate income or decent housing. … We are glad to help you as you help others.”
Carlyle Griffin, of Spokane, gave $970.70 via PayPal.
Nathan Narrance, of Colbert, gave $500 in honor of the volunteers.
An anonymous Spokane donor also gave $500.
Debra and Ralph Prouty, of Spokane, gave $300.
Wendy Perry, of Medical Lake, gave $250. “Sharing my gifts from above with you,” She wrote. “Thank you to the bureau for all you do.”
Jack and Rebecca Curry, of Spokane, gave $250. “In a world filled with news of man’s inhumanity to man and callous disregard for the rights of their fellows, it is a pleasure to read that the great majority of people do still, in fact, care for their fellow man,” they wrote. “Thank you for all the good you do for the people of our community, whether giving or receiving.”
Mark Stalwick, of Post Falls, gave $96.80 via PayPal on behalf of Howie and Jennifer Stalwick.
Tom Sahlberg, of Spokane, gave $96.80 via PayPal in honored memory of Don Kelly.
Gilbert Hart, of Spokane, gave $48.25 via PayPal, writing “a merry Christmas to all.”