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Christmas Bureau performers lift spirits; fund near one-third mark

Janet Ashley, left, and Judy Payne, with the Hillyard Belles dance troupe, perform the song “Sisters” for the crowd waiting in line at the Christmas Bureau on Thursday. (Colin Mulvany)
Janet Ashley, left, and Judy Payne, with the Hillyard Belles dance troupe, perform the song “Sisters” for the crowd waiting in line at the Christmas Bureau on Thursday. (Colin Mulvany)

When Janet Ashley and Judy Payne started dancing for the waiting line of recipients at the Christmas Bureau, their faces lit with mirth as merry as any elf.

Decked with gold garlands they used like feather boa props, the ladies quickly got the crowd clapping while dancing a vaudeville-style routine to the song “Sisters.”

Ashley and Payne are part of the volunteer entertainment troupe Hillyard Belles, Trainmen and Show Band, which has a minimum age of 50 and a dedication to high-spirited performances. They dance, sing and play at nursing homes, churches, fairs and civic events like the Christmas Bureau.

“It’s fun to see their smiling faces,” said Payne after their comedic set was over and the applause had died down. “They seem to enjoy the music and it takes some of the boredom out of waiting in line.”

The nonprofit entertainment troupe brought multiple acts to the delight of recipients and volunteers at the Christmas Bureau, which distributes books, toys and food vouchers so about 32,000 needy people have a merrier Christmas.

The charity is a Spokane tradition funded entirely by donations since 1945. It needs to raise more than $350,000 between now and Christmas to pay for the books, toys and food vouchers.

Because it’s staffed by 400 volunteers, 96 percent of money raised goes directly to those expenses, with only 4 percent for overhead.

Those volunteers do more than keep costs low. They fill the bureau with holiday cheer, from the toy buyers who shop for discounts on great gifts to the people verifying IDs and addresses to the greeters and baggers and stockroom workers.

“This is a unique group of volunteers because they’re so passionate about their responsibilities at the bureau,” said volunteer coordinator Brigid Krause. “They’re responding to a call to serve and to give back to their community. They bring Christmas magic and Christmas spirit. It’s a part of who they are and part of their holiday tradition.”

In fact, many of the volunteers come back year after year, and all spots for this year are filled. Anyone wanting to volunteer next year can complete a volunteer application from the Catholic Charities website:

Musicians, dancers and other entertainers who want to make the Christmas Bureau a festive experience for the needy families who come can also volunteer for next year by contacting Christy Folkins through Catholic Charities. This year, groups range from student musicians like the Gonzaga Prep and St. Aloysius choirs to well-known entertainers like Sissy Starr, the Blazing Divas, and the Hillyard Belles.

“There’s an immediate reaction when there’s music in the room,” said Folkins. “You can see it in their eyes. It brightens the mood. You watch them singing the carols and the little kids dancing. It’s a wonderful feeling.”

New donations

Justus Bag, in Spokane Valley, sent $5,000 in memory of their founder, Roland “Curly” Justus. “The entire staff at Justus Bag Company is pleased to, once again, contribute to the Christmas Fund,” they wrote. “We are aware of the fact that there is even a greater need this year and we are hopeful every need will be fulfilled and families will be able to enjoy the holiday season.”

Kimmel Athletic Supply Co. employees gave $3,000, writing, “From home to home and heart to heart, from one place to another the warmth and joy of Christmas brings us closer to each other. A Christmas tradition such as hanging lights, decorating trees and enjoying family and friends is what the holiday season is all about. We are proud to be a part of the Spokane community and help support this thoughtful cause of giving. We thank The Spokesman-Review for their part in carrying on this wonderful tradition.”

Spokane donors giving $200 were Chris Carroll, Carl and Anna Rabe, Virgil and Madelyn Dedas, Neil and Brigid Krause, an anonymous donor and Barry Bergau, who donated in honor of Debbie and Terry Montgomery. “We donate to charities instead of exchanging Christmas gifts,” they wrote.

Spokane Valley donors giving $200 were Marcia and Timothy Dorwin, Linda Spurlin and an anonymous donor.

The Gonzaga Department of Educational Leadership and Administration sent six checks totaling $185, writing, “We are so appreciative of your continuing commitment to our community and neighbors in providing them with much needed support this time of year.”

Denise Mutschler, of Cheney, gave $150.

Mike and Kathy Eaton, of Spokane, gave $150, as did Robert H. Witte, who gave in memory of William E. Witte.

Jane Crowley, of Spokane, sent $125 on behalf of Nancy Gillespie’s bridge group in her memory.

Bob and Glenda Thompson, of Colbert, gave $100 in memory of fellow Christmas Bureau volunteer Ernie Packebush.

Frederika and Sam Wetterhus, of Colbert, gave $100, in memory of their son, Bob Wetterhus.

Kathleen and John Roche, of Liberty Lake, gave $100, as did Patricia and Michael Hostetter, of Nine Mile Falls.

Spokane donors giving $100 include Jerry Skogstad, Tim Lawhead and Teresa Hurliman, Tara Hamm, Joyce and Col. Robert Bublitz, Sharon Grimmer, Raylene and Stephen Skok, Jill and Ruedene, Donald and Abigail Barden, Lloyd Madison, the Seilers and Mr. and Mrs. Robert Lingow, who gave in memory of their daughter Carrie and their parents. “We hope to help those in need this Christmas,” they wrote.

Other Spokane donors giving $100 include four anonymous donors, one who gave “in memory of June” and one who wrote, “Please use this for all those who need help. My husband loved to decorate for Christmas so this is in his memory.”

Louann Cannor, of Spokane, gave $100, writing, “Hope we make the goal!”

Kath’en and Alexis Bay-Higdon, of Spokane, gave $100 “in memory of Dr. Jo Elliott-Blakeslee and Amy Linkert, who devoted their entire lives to helping others. Tragically, they recently died at Craters of the Moon National Park. God bless you all and we pray our money needs will be met before Christmas.”

Jackie Howerton, of Spokane Valley, gave $100, as did an anonymous donor who wrote, “I pray with all my heart that your goal is met!”

Mr. and Mrs. Wilson Jacobson Jr., of Usk, gave $100.

John, Debbie and Mihelle Melius, of Veradale, gave $100 “in loving memory of Joe, Helen, Frank and Izzy.”

Kevin and Margaret Mackey, of Milipitos, Ga., gave $80 “in memory of Dr. Jo Elliott-Blakeslee and Amy Linkert.”

Lianne and Fred Inaba, of Pullman, gave $75. “Thank you for helping so many experience a brighter life during this time of year,” they wrote.

An anonymous Spokane donor gave $70.

Roger and Linda Rivers, of Newman Lake, gave $50.

Spokane donors giving $50 include Janice Stewart, Tammy Reid, Charlotte Watson, Adrienne Goodwin, an anonymous donor and Lyle Pugh, who gave in memory of his wife, Barbara.

Bruce and Carol Ann Mountjoy, of Spokane Valley, gave $50.

Jarrett Lange, of Spokane, gave $40.

Cynthia, Kyile and Kaitlyn LeBlanc, of Greenacres, gave $35.

An anonymous Liberty Lake donor gave $25.

Jan Oman, of Spokane, gave $25, as did Julie Farmer, who wrote, “Thanks for all the Christmas Bureau workers!”

Peggy and Nicholas DiFilippo, of Spokane Valley, gave $25, as did an anonymous Veradale donor.

Ruth Connor, of Endicott, gave $20.

Spokane donors giving $20 were Barbara Bolton, Vivienne and Master Sgt. Rolf Walling and an anonymous donor who gave in memory of Annabelle.

An anonymous Spokane donor gave $15, writing “We hope it helps meet your budget goals, and helps a child have a happy holiday.”