Like excited kids dressed for a snowball fight, Christmas Bureau volunteers arrived at the fairgrounds Monday morning decked in coats, hats and gloves, ready to unload toy trucks in a warehouse that wasn’t much warmer than the single-digit temperatures outside.
No matter the weather, the spirit in the warehouse was warm.
“I wore three layers of gloves and I still can’t feel my fingers,” said Brock Bayley with a laugh while he waited for a forklift to lower the next pallet of toys. “I’m just unloading trucks and drinking cocoa.”
The Gonzaga Prep senior came with students from Knights and Ancilla, the school’s community service clubs, joining about 80 volunteers to unload and organize 18,000 toys that will be distributed over the next 10 days for needy children.
“I think it’d be really cool to see the surprise on their faces,” Bayley said of the children who’ll receive the presents their parents pick out from the Christmas Bureau’s toy room and book tables.
The Christmas Bureau, a 68-year-old charity organized by Catholic Charities, Volunteers of America and The Spokesman-Review, helps families in need have a merry Christmas by providing toys, books and food vouchers for the holiday.
It’s funded by donations from the community and needs to raise $525,000 by Christmas so it can continue serving almost 10,000 low-income households.
For Rogers High School sophomore Kaitlyn Thomson, 15, volunteering during setup was a fun way to give back.
“It’s really good what they’re doing,” Thomson said of the charity. “When you help people you feel like you’ve made someone’s day and made them smile.”
Volunteer Pinky Culbertson was all smiles as she and Joy Gill organized aisles of games and sporting goods, counting and marking the inventory on their clipboards and testing toys with batteries to make sure they worked.
“This is my favorite volunteering,” Culbertson said. “It gets you in the Christmas spirit.”
“And it makes you appreciate what you have,” added Gill, describing how the sad circumstances she hears about while working the ID table make her especially grateful and glad to help.
Once the last truck was unloaded and the heat was turned on, the warehouse warmed up. Still, the chill is a concern for organizers who don’t want recipients waiting in the cold. On the first two days of the bureau it’s common for the line to stretch outside, sometimes all the way to the parking lot gates.
“The thing I worry about the most is the weather,” said Rob McCann, Catholic Charities executive director. “I’m watching for the first forecast. Is it going to snow?”
Since the bureau has well-organized inventory control, organizers suggested if recipients can wait a couple of days, the charity will still have plenty of books and gifts to choose from but shorter lines with less chance of waiting outside.
“By day four the line dies down,” Christmas bureau coordinator Judy Lee said. She estimated the bureau can fit several hundred people in the line inside and said they have extended the covered walkway outside to offer partial protection from the elements to more people.
“The line can sometimes be two hours long, and these are folks who’re struggling to get by. They don’t always have coats,” McCann said. “We don’t want people to be cold and we don’t want people to not come because it’s cold or snowy.”
Don and Eleanor Limmer, of Liberty Lake, donated $200.
An anonymous Spokane donor gave $100.
William Lockwood, of Spokane, gave $96.80 via PayPal.
An anonymous Spokane donor gave $67.67 via PayPal.
An anonymous Spokane donor gave $20.
Barbara and Larry Anderson, of Spokane, also gave $20, as did George Morris Sr., of Spokane.