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Christmas Bureau offers ethnically diverse books for kids

As she’s shopping for children’s books for the Christmas Bureau, Marilee Roloff hunts hard-to-find books that feature minority children.

“We want to have books at the bureau that reflect the children we’re serving,” said the executive director of Volunteers of America, which partners with Catholic Charities and The Spokesman-Review to organize the Christmas Bureau each year.

Roloff noted that low-income populations tend to be ethnically diverse – something she saw each day at the bureau as numerous families from a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds came to the charity for holiday help.

At the Christmas Bureau, people in need receive a grocery voucher of $15 to $30, based on family size, so they can buy fixings for Christmas dinner. They also can select one toy for each of their children and one book for each child through age 14. This year it served 30,091 people, including 15,266 children.

For Roloff, it’s important that the books have enough variety to appeal to any child no matter their interests, age, gender, reading ability or ethnic background.

“I think it’s important that children see themselves in books,” she explained. “And I watch them do it. I’ve watched kids of color come up to the book table and go right to a book about a child that looks like them. They are just tickled.”

For Everardo Andrade, those efforts were appreciated because he easily found books that would appeal to his two children.

“It means a lot,” said Andrade, who originally hails from Guadalajara, Mexico. “It makes us feel like we’re welcome.”

It isn’t easy, said Roloff, to find quality books with ethnically diverse characters or content. Many have to be special-ordered.

In fact, according to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, of the 3,600 books they received in 2012, only 3.3 percent had African-American content, 1.5 percent had Latino content and a mere 0.6 percent had American Indian themes, topics or characters.

“It’s very difficult to find fiction for Native American children,” Roloff said. But she did, stocking books like “The Blue Roses” by Linda Boyden and “Moonstick: The Seasons of the Sioux” by Eve Bunting and John Sandford.

She also chose books for early bilingual readers, with Spanish and English side by side, as well as a wide range of books for all ages that include characters from different cultures.

According to book table volunteer and retired teacher Mary Daugharty, parents are happy to discover the diverse literature, in part because they don’t expect it.

“They’re delighted,” she said, describing how a mom who was Nez Perce was grateful to find a fiction survival story featuring a young Nez Perce protagonist. She chose it for her 10-year-old daughter.

“It’s a mission for us,” Daugharty said of matching the right book to each child. “We feel strongly that the only way for a child to develop the mind is to imagine. Books are a great avenue to grow and change and explore the world around them.”

New donations

An anonymous Spokane donor gave $5,000. “Thank you to the Christmas Bureau, the volunteers and the generosity of the Spokane community. Peace on earth, goodwill toward men,” the donor wrote.

Ken and Sharon Roberts, of Spokane, gave $1,500.

Tom and Colleen Tracy, of Spokane, gave $1,000. “Sharing some of our good fortune to help those in need, to thank all the volunteers to this wonderful tradition and in remembrance of my dad, John, and mother-in-law, Rita.”

Reamer Family Dentistry gave $1,000, as did an anonymous donor who wrote, “Thank you to all at the bureau for all that you do for others.”

The Suburbanites gave $1,000 they raised at the club’s Christmas party. The group of about 30 women holds three large fundraising events annually, aiming to raise $9,000 to $10,000 to benefit organizations that help area children, such as food banks, the Spokane Guilds’ School, Children’s Village, Tom’s Turkey Drive and the Christmas Bureau.

Tim and Jackie Randall, of Cheney, gave $500, writing, “Merry Christmas and God bless to everyone.”

Mr. and Mrs. Robert Arnold, of Deer Park, gave $500.

Steve and Rene Goebel, of Nine Mile Falls, gave $500 in memory of Myles Hawkeye Brisbois.

Frank DeAbreu, of Spokane, gave $500 in memory of his wife, Lynnette Ruth DeAbreu, who died Oct. 6.

Other Spokane donors giving $500 include Jack Russell, Jim and Sally Sledge, Melissa and James Tipke, Tom Porter Insurance, an anonymous Spokane donor and Donald M. Butler, who sent a retirement distribution.

Linda and Jamie Solan, of Spokane, gave $500. “My husband used to enjoy walking over from his office to drop off our contribution every year,” wrote Linda Solan. “This year I’m happy to do it in his memory. I’ve had the pleasure of working at the bureau and know how much good each dollar does.”

The Patten family – Barbara Cunningham, Herb Patten and Rich Patten, of Spokane – gave $500 in memory of Les Patten. “It’s that time of year when my husband Les Patten would look at gifting in the spirit of Christmas, and your Christmas Bureau always topped the list,” wrote Georgene Patten. “Thanks to all your volunteers who do so much to brighten holidays for the families in the community, as well as thanks to your Associates, Catholic Charities and Volunteers of America.”

Bob and Judy Lee, of Spokane, gave $300 in memory of their grandson, Austin McKenzie, father, Ken Smith, and mother, Catherine Lee.

Jerry Stumphf, of Spokane, gave $300.

John and Nancy Risse, of Spokane, gave $250.

Kathy and Bruce Bixler, of Spokane, gave $250. “Thank you for all you do for families in need to help make their Christmas one to remember,” they wrote. “We donate this year in fond memory of our dear friend Don Kelly. He is truly missed by all who knew him!”

Mr. and Mrs. John Wilson, of Spokane Valley, gave $250.