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Christmas Bureau keeps holiday hope alive

The children are counting down. There are 25 days until Christmas. And as they dictate or scrawl letters to Santa or point out purchases in store windows and catalogs, their eyes fill with excitement. Christmas is coming – a morning filled with delighted squeals and giddy bouncing over the perfect present under the tree.

That holiday hope echoes in the hearts of parents who launch love-filled hunts for gifts that elicit smiles, thankful hugs and happy sighs.

But for some, hope struggles under worry. The holidays are hard when the paycheck barely covers rent and groceries, when a medical crisis eats any excess income, or when a job loss or disability means the ends never quite meet.

For families and individuals who struggle financially, the Christmas Bureau keeps holiday hope alive.

Since 1945, supported by the Spokane community, the charity has raised enough money between Thanksgiving and Christmas to give our area’s less-fortunate people a happy holiday. This year’s goal is $525,000, the same amount as the last two years.

The Christmas Bureau distributes food vouchers, books and toys, funded by donations from Spokesman-Review readers. The bureau is staffed with more than 400 volunteers, so 96 percent of the money raised goes directly to purchase those gifts.

The charity is a collaborative effort among Catholic Charities, Volunteers of America and The Spokesman-Review and will run at the fairgrounds from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Dec 11-20, excluding Sunday.

“It’s a wonderful community program. There’s such a spirit of community,” said Christmas Bureau Coordinator Judy Lee. “It’s one person who’s able to help another person who’s going through a hard time. We’re so impressed by the generosity of people in the community so we can purchase what we provide.”

Lee said every day at the Bureau she sees and hears gratitude for those gifts. As recipients make their way through the lines to ID and address verification, computer station for food vouchers, book tables, toy room and bagging area, they say “Thank you” over and over.

Last year the charity served 32,060 adults and children. A similar number are expected this year.

“The people who access it are so thankful for what they’re able to receive,” said Lee, noting that parents can choose one gift per child and one book for kids through age 14.

Additionally, any low-income adult can receive a food voucher, $15 for a single person, $20 for a household of 2, $25 for 3 and $30 for families 4 and larger. While income is not verified, each recipient must show documentation for each person in the household, including children.

“It’s hard to come ask for help and yet when we are respectful and welcoming they are respectful and gracious back. The people are so gracious,” said Marilee Roloff, president and CEO of Volunteers of America. “That feels really good.”

It takes a lot of donations to make this possible, something readers have done faithfully for decades. Each year children, adults, families, social groups, endowments and businesses give, from a few dollars to thousands.

No matter the amount, each Christmas contribution is recognized in the paper, a thanks on behalf of the organizers for generous giving that shares the Christmas spirit with so many less-fortunate families.

“Those of us who work at the Bureau every day are impressed by the joy at what they’re receiving,” said Lee. “We know we need to give thanks to the community. In terms of how many people donate money and how many entities come together to make this work, it’s a joyful thing.”

In fact, in Spokane the Bureau is a community tradition that deserves its own countdown. There are 25 days until Christmas, but only 11 days until the Christmas Bureau opens.