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Christmas Bureau volunteer, ‘ball of energy’ gives away smiles, too

Volunteer Geraldine Fait, 88, greets Perla Rodragues and her daughter Athenea Martinez at the Christmas Bureau on Thursday at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center. “I love people,” Fait said. (Kathy Plonka)
Volunteer Geraldine Fait, 88, greets Perla Rodragues and her daughter Athenea Martinez at the Christmas Bureau on Thursday at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center. “I love people,” Fait said. (Kathy Plonka)

At 4-foot-10 and 88 years old, Geraldine Fait is a spry example of giving back with grace. This season she volunteered to restock toys at the Christmas Bureau, carrying boxes and helping recipients find the right presents for their children.

“My cup is never half empty. It’s always half full,” Fait said. “That takes care of a lot of things.”

Fait filled the toy room with good cheer, welcoming and helping the needy families who came to pick out presents for their children.

“She’s just a ball of energy. She’s a good role model for us,” said Rick Haynes, a volunteer in charge of restocking toys at the charity that distributes toys, books and $15 to $30 food vouchers so needy families have a merry Christmas.

The bureau closed yesterday after serving 9,218 households who had an average reported income of $1,168 a month. This year, about 400 volunteers helped 30,091 people, 15,266 of them children, but it still needs to raise more than $100,000 to reach the $525,000 price tag to fund the toys, books and food vouchers given this year.

As a lifetime Spokane resident, Fait said she’d always known about the Christmas Bureau, and she and her late husband, Fred, had donated to support it for years. But until she visited and saw the charity in action last year, she hadn’t truly realized its scope and reach.

“I hadn’t seen anything so overwhelming,” she said, describing the long lines of people, the thousands of toys organized and stacked in the stockroom, the efficient organization, the seasonal spirit of the volunteers and the gratitude of the recipients. “I couldn’t believe it. I was amazed.”

So she volunteered this year, asking for the restocking job because she enjoys interacting with the recipients who come to pick out presents for their children.

“I love people. I wanted to be with the kids, the toys and the fun,” she said, noting that volunteering is a good way to take her mind off missing her husband.

“I needed to get out and do for others” she explained. “It’s as good for me as it is for them.”

Fait also donated $10,000 in her husband’s memory this month, giving generously to the charity she said does a good job screening recipients.

Bureau organizers strive to prevent fraud with ID checks, address verification for every member of the household and a computer system that tracks the names of families helped to avoid duplications.

Knowing this, Fait said, “I don’t think anybody would wait for three hours in the cold for a gift if they didn’t really need it.”

The true need is also evident, she said, in her interaction with recipients.

“It’s the expression on their faces, their gratitude, the hugs they give,” she said with a smile, her blue eyes sparkling. “Christmas is a little hard, but this part is good.”

New donations

Though it’s approaching the $525,000 goal, the charity would need to raise more than $25,000 a day to make the goal by Christmas. Donations will, however, be accepted through noon on Dec. 30. Every donation helps, including the following new donations.

An anonymous Spokane donor gave $2,000 “for those that need help and the volunteers who help them.”

Tipke Manufacturing, of Spokane, gave $1,500.

Two anonymous Spokane donors gave $1,000.

Dr. and Mrs. Michael P. Berg, of Spokane, gave $1,000, writing, “We want to help others have a merry Christmas. Thank you for making it easy.”

The Gadd-McBurney family, of Spokane, gave $512.

Mr. and Mrs. Jeff Brown, of Mead, gave $500.

Spokane donors giving $500 were Jean and Douglas Edwards, Max J. Kuney Co., Morris D. Wolff, Rosemarie Duffy, William Brown and an anonymous Spokane donor who wrote: “Thank you for the good work that you are doing!”

Tim and Julie Tveit, of Spokane Valley, gave $500 in memory of Dr. Maj StormoGipson, who died this year in an accident. “She lived her life advocating for the values of ‘acting in the best interest of the child and his/her family,’ ” they wrote. “We know the Christmas Bureau emphasizes this as well, thus a perfect fit to honor a wonderful pediatrician. She is deeply missed.”

Wilbur Yates, of Spokane, gave $415, writing, “This year I decided to get my children, grandchildren involved in this very worthwhile project. Usually, I give each of them a monetary amount. This year I deducted $5 from each one and am sending that plus my usual donation of $250. Thank you for helping people in need.”

Marilyn and Barry Rookey, of Nine Mile Falls, gave $300. “Thanks to all who make this outreach so successful. God bless you all and have a very blessed holiday season,” they wrote.

James Bankston, of Spokane, gave $300, as did an anonymous donor.

Todd and Jody Caldwell, of Veradale, gave $300, writing, “Thank you for the opportunity to make our Christmas be more fulfilling.”

Bonnie and Dennis Hughes, of Deer Park, gave $250, as did Sharon and William Beck, of Otis Orchards.

Alan, Heidi, Tim and Evan Shustoff, of Spokane, gave $250, as did Theresa and Daniel Lennon, and Jill and Tom Kuhn, who gave in memory of Jill’s parents, Ro and Jim Nessly.

Dave and Dawn Voelker, of Spokane Valley, gave $250.

Brian and Mary Smith gave $200 in memory of Denny Sulpizio and Ken Marcus, (reported Dec. 20 without the memoriam).

An anonymous Spokane donor gave $150 in honor of Lori and Tom Huling.

An anonymous Spokane donor gave $150 in honor of Karen Ithomitis and Kay O’Hem.