After 20 years, Donna Bielecki returned to the Christmas Bureau on its opening day Wednesday.
The last time she used the charity serving the region’s neediest families, she was pregnant and had an 8-year-old. Times were tight.
“Their dad wasn’t working full time, and I wasn’t working,” she recalled, adding that the following year she got a full-time job at a grocery store and could manage Christmas presents without the charity’s help. “I figured I didn’t need it as much as other people,” she said.
But times are tight again. Her decades-long relationship ended and Bielecki found herself in financial upheaval. Then she lost the job she’d held for 15 years. Changing careers, she’s been working as a caregiver but recently her hours were cut by a third.
A monthly income of less than $911 doesn’t stretch far for a family of four. With a 12-year-old son and baby granddaughter living with her and her adult daughter, Bielecki faced a bleak Christmas. Thankfully, she remembered the Christmas Bureau could help.
The charity provides books, toys and food vouchers for needy families during the holidays. It’s supported by donations from the community between Thanksgiving and Christmas. This year, the Christmas Fund must raise an additional $373,000 to meet its goal and pay for the books and toys already purchased; fundraising is running far behind what’s needed. The bureau serves about 32,000 people annually. On opening day, the bureau served 4,787 people in 1,310 households.
According to Bishop Blase Cupich of the Spokane Catholic Diocese, who visited the bureau on its opening day, the project organized by Catholic Charities, Volunteers of America and The Spokesman-Review is important because it makes a difference.
“It’s great to be a part of a winning combination and a part of something that really enhances the quality of life for a lot of people,” he said. “There’s a great joy that it brings.”
For Bielecki, the bureau is making Christmas possible.
“It’s really hard,” she said, her voice breaking. “I’ve had a hard year. I’ve gotten shut-off notices. I have $20 to last me to the end of the month. That’s why I came down.”
She wanted to get something for her son, a seventh-grader who didn’t give her a holiday wish list. “He told me not to worry about it, that he didn’t want anything,” she said, blinking back tears.
But every kid should get something for Christmas and thanks to donors and volunteers, Bielecki could pick out a gift she knew he’d enjoy. She also found the perfect present for her 18-month-old grandaughter, and books for both kids.
“It’s worth the wait,” she said of the two-hour line on the first day. “Spokane is a great community, and they really do help people out.”
Kile Machine and Manufacturing Inc, in Rosalia, donated $2,500.
An anonymous Spokane donor gave $2,000, writing, “Thank you for this service to our community. It is much appreciated by both givers and receivers.”
An anonymous Spokane donor gave $1,000, writing, “We have so many blessings. Out of gratitude we would like to share.”
Dennis, Donna and Blair Kelly, of Spokane, gave $1,000 in memory of Don Kelly, longtime Christmas Bureau volunteer.
Harold and Sharon Cathcart, of Colbert, gave $750.
The Mickelson Family, of Spokane, gave $750, as did Terry and Katheryn Dino.
An anonymous Hayden, Idaho, donor gave $700.
An anonymous Spokane donor gave $700 “in loving memory of Don Kelly, Father and Grandfather, that his good work will continue on.”
Fred and Norrine Potts, of Spokane Valley, gave $600.
Judith McGrady, of Liberty Lake, gave $500 “in memory of my husband Bob McGrady and friends Carol Romero and Royleen Baker.”
Linda Ashlock, of Liberty Lake, gave $500, writing, “Thank you for all you do to bring Christmas happiness to many.”
An anonymous Medical Lake donor gave $500.
Burma and Rick Williams, of Spokane, gave $500 “in honor of our daughter Elizabeth. Thanks for all you do every year to make Christmas a little brighter for so many!”
John and Janet Peterson, of Spokane, gave $500, as did Rhea Dow, who wrote, “It is a pleasure to volunteer and donate to the Christmas Bureau each year.”
An anonymous Spokane donor gave $500 “with the hope that it will help brighten the holiday season and provide some joy in the lives of those in need during this special time of year.”
Rehabilitation Associates, of Spokane, sent $500. “We are pleased to help the community each year. Merry Christmas,” they wrote.
An anonymous Spokane donor gave $500 with “love and best wishes to those in need.”
C.R. and Diana Wilhite, of Spokane Valley, gave $500. “Although the economy is improving there are still a lot of struggling families who need a helping hand,” they wrote. “We are blessed that we can give something to make Christmas smiles appear on the faces of children and give families hope and faith that better times are coming.”
Jeff and Robin Knight, of Ocean Park, Wash., gave $485.20 via PayPal, writing, “Keep up the great work.”
Jane Joseph, of Spokane, gave $485.20 via PayPal.
The Jones Family, of Veradale, gave $400.
Janice Darc, of Coeur D’Alene, gave $300.
An anonymous Liberty Lake donor gave $300, as did an anonymous Deer Park donor who gave $300 “in loving memory of Milton and Fay Echelbarger.”
Joe and Pam Ridlington, of Mead, gave $300. “Thank you to all the volunteers who help make this fund possible,” they wrote. “We are amazed every year how much you accomplish. It lifts our spirits to see so much compassion from the community.”
Steven and Lorrie Menutt, of Spokane, gave $300, as did an anonymous donor who wrote, “Thanks for your wonderful Christmas service, and thanks to all the volunteers and many donors.”
Dick and Zella Novotney, of Spokane, gave $300 in honor of their three grown daughters, “who have always given generously to others throughout their life with their time as well as monetary items.”
Tim and Darlene Holliday, of Spokane, gave $300 in memory of their son Russell “Air Hoss” Holliday. “We hope that our donation helps give a child or family a brighter Christmas,” they wrote.
Timothy and M. Camille Schmidt, of Valleyford, gave $300.
Mike and Jan Martin, of Medical Lake, gave $266.72 via PayPal in honor of their daughter Meghan’s Peace Corps service.
Spokane donors giving $250 include Scott and Lori Schuldt, Sidney Nicholson, Dee and John Rodgers, two anonymous donors, and Sandy and Ted Vogelman, who wrote, “It is our blessing to be able to give to the Christmas Fund.”
Gary and Sharon Randall, of Colbert, gave $225 in memory of their parents, Margaret and Press Cleveland and Les and Clara Randall.
Alan and Darci Gayda, of Colville, gave $200, writing, “We were inspired by your heart-warming story of Don Kelly.”
An anonymous Deer Park donor gave $200.
Fran Mitchell, of Rathdrum, gave $200 “to help make a family smile.” She gave in loving memory of her husband Dale D. Mitchell, with whom she had 60 years together, and her son, Rory L. Mitchell, who went too soon, she said.
Norma Tillotson, of Spokane, gave $200 in memory of her mother Frances Reno and sister Karen Larson, both of whom passed away last year. “This is my first time contributing to the fund but it will not be my last,” she wrote. “They would both be happy to know that this gift in their memory is going to help others, as both were among the most generous people I have known. I guess it’s never too late to follow in their footsteps!”
Robert and Vickie McCann, of Spokane, gave $200, writing, “The article in today’s Spokesman touched our hearts. Thank you for letting us know more about the needs for funds at the Christmas Bureau. We hope the goal is met.”
Other Spokane donors giving $200 include Heidi and Harold Clarke III, Lynn Samuels, Gini and Tom Burns, an anonymous donor, Nancy and Scott Stowell, Lloyd and Harriet Jacobson, and Jud Heathcote, who wrote, “It seems a crime that a country as prosperous as the U.S. has so many hungry and homeless people. Hope this helps a little.”
An anonymous Spokane Valley donor gave $200.
Jay and Birgitta Landreth, of Tumtum, gave $200.
George Sullivan, of Colbert, gave $193.90 via PayPal, as did Linda Henderson, of Spokane.
Linda Tetrault, of Cocolalla, Idaho, gave $150.
Spokane donors giving $150 include John and Zoe Foltz, Rick and Sharon Myers, William and Harriet Plucker, Sharon and Eddie Cassens, Terry and Paul Giordanella, Catholic Charities, and Carl and Dennie Crowe, who wrote, “With our deepest appreciation for all the wonderful things you do through the Christmas Bureau.”
Fran Rogers, of Spokane, gave $150, writing, “My three children have gone to heaven and God is taking care of them. I hope this check will bring some smiles to children here on earth on His birthday which is Christmas Day. May God bless all of you for your marvelous work.”
Rosemary Shockley, of Spokane Valley, gave $150.
An anonymous Spokane donor gave $135.
Ron and Naomi Franklin, of Spokane, gave $130.
Jack and Phyllis Worden, of Spokane, gave $125, as did Gary Cooper and Catherine Siejk who gave for the Cooper kids: Jackson, Grace, Duncan, Aidan and Ben.
Linda Hempel, of Apache Junction, Ariz., gave $100. “Please accept this small token to help the less fortunate enjoy Christmas!” she wrote. “God has been so good to us, we’d like to share some of our blessings with others!”
Roy and Joey Schmidt, and Gary and Judy Spangelo, both of Cheney, gave $100.
Marty Beresford and Susanne Tuson, of Colbert, gave $100 “hoping that this will make Christmas a bit brighter for all the children in our area.”
Dan and Margie Sanford, of Deer Park, gave $100.
Kristine Nestoss and Joseph Wormuth, of Greenacres, gave $100 in memory of their dads, William Nestoss and Willard Wormuth.
Barry Benoit, of Hauser, gave $100.
Michael and Konni Dietz, of Mead, gave $100.
Elizabeth Whitlock, of Newman Lake, gave $100, writing, “It is a privilege to contribute … I sincerely hope that others will donate to this worthy Christmas fund to help provide a Happy Holiday to those people less fortunate.”
Janet and Charles Watkins, of Newport, Wash., gave $100.
The Thomas Family, of Post Falls, gave $100, writing, “I know it’s difficult to encourage folks to give in these trying times, but keep being vocal about the tremendous need … it breaks my heart that so many folks in our community can’t make ends meet. I’m a single mom. I know what it’s like to worry about finances and wonder whether there will be enough money for anything non-critical. Having a little extra money is a privilege to which I may never fully grow accustomed, but I will always open my heart to those in the position of needing a little extra help. Cheers to the Spokesman-Review staff for establishing and maintaining the Fund. It’s my hope that many more will step forward with small contributions that will help you reach your goal.”
Spokane donors giving $100 include Mr. and Mrs. Charles Kallesta, Tom and Mary Anna Bryan, Dorothy Hart, Joyce and Ralph Prouty, Barbara and Lon Pursell, Bill and Renee Hayes, The Gilham Family, Mr. and Mrs. Howard Pilcher, Mabel Morrison, Dick and Donita Day, Fred and Gayle Fox, three anonymous donors, Gay and Brent Hoogner, Mari Lynn Sonner, Tom and Mary Lacy, Corinne Hirst, Susan and Michael Cooper, and Stephen and Mary Jane Hassard, who wrote, “Thank you for all you do. These situations are heartbreaking.”
Cheryl Hochreiter, of Spokane, gave $100 “in loving memory of my son Josh and my grandson Dereck. They both were always willing to help others.”
Roxanna and Stephen Palmer, of Spokane, gave $100 “in memory of Chet and Eileen, Papa Bill and Merlie … parents who embodied what Christmas is truly about.”
Jim Millard, of Spokane, gave $100, writing, “I’m a retired Air Force man whose children and grandchildren are grown up and out of reach. So, I’m sending a check so someone can have a better Christmas. Thank you for your services and volunteers for doing a good job.”
Other Spokane donors giving $100 include the Terpenings, Jack and Sharon Sutto, Annette LaCombe, the O’Briens, Sandra Hatch, Larry and Pam McClenny, Edward and Mary Webster, Don and Vicki Gorden, Ron and Linda Schultz, Judy Madden, Joan Menzies, and Norm and Roz Luther, who wrote, “We hope the money increases for your good cause.”
Spokane Valley donors giving $100 include Evelyn Brookbank, Sally and Walter Bonsack, Edward and Ethel Fisk, Mr. and Mrs. Don Lippman, Carol Lippman, and Janet Gray, who gave “in memory of my husband John who died Aug. 4. He enjoyed sending our contribution for many years.”
Nikolaus Krause, of Charleston, S.C., gave $96.80 via PayPal.
Cheryl Doran, of Spokane, gave $96.80 via PayPal in memory of her son, Gabe.
An anonymous Spokane Valley donor gave $94, writing, “Best wishes to you dear helpers. I am sending $94 as I am 94 years of age. Looking forward to the year I can send $100.”
The Tuesday Bridge Club, of Spokane, gave $90.
An anonymous Chattaroy donor gave $75.
Marlene Westhoff, of Spokane, gave $75 “in loving memory of Werner Westhoff.”
Alan and Deanna Eppinger, of Spokane, gave $60.
Mark and Linda McFall, of Colbert, gave $50, as did an anonymous donor.
The Onion Creek School Board and administration, of Colville, gave $50. “In lieu of giving each other presents, we have chosen to share our Christmas cheer with those in need,” they wrote. “Thank you for the Bureau’s work.”
Gordon and Terri Radford, of Hayden, gave $50.
Janice and Larry Sieg, of Moses Lake, gave $50.
Andy and Sally James, of Onion Creek, gave $50. “We hope it will make for a joyous holiday season for those in need,” they wrote.
Roy and Ginger Johnson, of Spangle, gave $50.
An anonymous Spokane donor gave $50 “in memory of my dear Cathy.”
Other Spokane donors giving $50 include Phil Schumaker, W.T. and Charlotte Ardiss, MaryAnn Darrow, D & T Baslington, Lynda Bowman, Alex and Louise VanDer Wilde, Jim and Jackie Vroman, Kenneth Peacock and Amy K. Kelly-Peacock, M.D. Breneman, Joy Ennis, Michael and Gladys Alfano, an anonymous donor, Michael Rooth, Connie Vetter, Judy Smith, and Dudley Mizoguchi, who gave in memory of John Traynor.
A seven-day Spokesman subscriber gave $50, writing, “Dear volunteers: This is one check that is a joy to write each year, in thanks that our large family is all employed and we are surrounded with happy, healthy children, grandchildren and a growing number of great-grands each Christmas Eve.”
Marilyn Miller, of Spokane, gave $50, writing, “because of the generous help of the Spokesman-Review and our community many families in need also enjoy the wonders of Christmas.”
Barry and Deborah Cross, of Spokane, gave $50 in memory of Ryan Cross.
Spokane Valley donors giving $50 include Helen and Richard Runsvold, John Remund, Betty Wolf, and Betty Johnson, who wrote, “Thanks to the Christmas Bureau for making a brighter and happier holiday for many in our area.”
Marlene Nelson, of Spokane Valley, gave $50 in memory of her husband Robert D. Nelson.
Norma Mac Arthur, of Poulsbo, Wash., gave $48.25 via PayPal in memory of the Mellick Family.
Tammy Von Steuben, of Spokane, gave $48.25 via PayPal.
Brian and Maren Bofenkamp, of Spokane, gave $40.
Jay, Debbie, Zack and Jenna Humphrey, of Spokane, gave $40 in memory of Frank and Vera Romero.
Krystle Robinson, of Spokane, gave $40. “Rather than receive an office Christmas gift Nona Doyle asked for a donation to the Christmas Bureau,” she wrote.
Mary Kay Mace, of Liberty Lake, gave $35.
Christine Bieker, of Spokane, gave $35.
Spokane Valley donors giving $35 were Shirley Schoenleber and Gordon Landberg.
Barbara Jewell-Potter, of Spokane, gave $31.74 via PayPal.
Jeremy Bentz-Ashbaugh, of Spokane, gave $30 “in loving memory of my biological grandmothers: Roberta ‘Bertie’ Ashbaugh and Merna ‘Jean’ Bentz. They will both be missed this Christmas but I know they would approve of this donation.”
Spokane donors giving $30 were Betty Thompson, Martha Saad, and an anonymous donor.
William and Gelene Griffiths, of Nine Mile Falls, gave $25.
Warren and Joni Omans, of Otis Orchards, gave $25.
Spokane donors giving $25 include Glenn Shepard, Mary and Harold Haimerl, Ellen Brownell, Cynthia Dusek, Vickie Borer, five anonymous donors and Russ and Betty Hite, who wrote, “to help you to do your good work at Christmastime.”
Jo Sepulveda, of Spokane, gave $25 in memory of Don Kelly.
Stephen and Marcia Downing, of Spokane Valley, gave $25.
Two anonymous Spokane donors gave $20. One wrote, “My small gift is sent with gratitude for my family’s many blessings. The newspaper’s endeavor is truly a long-running phenomenon for our area’s most needy.”
Carolyn Doty, of Spokane Valley, gave $20. “I read your article in the Sunday paper and it touched my heart. I wish it could be more,” she wrote. “Thanks for what you do.”
Kari Mosley, of Pullman, gave $19.12 via PayPal.
Fred Grey, of Spokane, gave $15.
An anonymous Spokane donor gave $10, writing, “wish it could be more.”