Every holiday season is full of traditions, whether it is family meals, ski trips or making snowmen in the front yard. At The Spokesman-Review, Catholic Charities and the Volunteers of America, the annual holiday tradition is hosting the Christmas Bureau to provide food and toys to families who need a little help with the holidays.
The newspaper collects and accounts for the donations through the Christmas Fund. The money is then used by the charities to pay for food vouchers for families and a toy and a book for each child.
No money is used to pay overhead costs; all donations go directly to the Christmas Bureau to support is mission of helping local families.
The tradition goes back to 1945. Since that time, the community has donated more than $16 million. In 2016 the community of Eastern Washington and North Idaho gave $540,073.39, which exceeded its goal of $525,000. While the grand total was impressive, it did not match the record breaking $578,404.44 of 2013.
Volunteers of America is focused on buying the books that are given to each child. Literacy is key to influencing and mitigating the effects of poverty, said Volunteers of America Director Fawn Schott.
Schott first got involved in the Christmas Bureau as a volunteer two years ago. “I was hooked,” she said. “It helped me recognize Christmas is about giving and serving others.”
While she enjoys helping out at the Christmas Bureau, she recognized that it’s even more important for the recipients.
“It means that somebody recognizes them as a valuable part of the community and they get to be a part of the Christmas celebration,” she said.
While offering each child a book seems like a small thing to do, it can mean much more than that to parents. Hardly anyone simply pulls a book off the tables.
“The diligence that they take in picking out a book for their child is amazing,” Schott said. “It warms your heart. You cannot walk out of that space and not feel this is why Christmas happens.”
Catholic Charities director Rob McCann is in his eighteenth year heading up his organization and participating in the Christmas Bureau.
“During those 10 days I pretty much live down there,” he said.
McCann said he’s looked around the country to find a similar community effort for Christmas but hasn’t been able to find anything. “It’s grown into something big,” he said.
It’s always special to see the community rally together to fund the effort, McCann said. “Christmas and the Christmas season reminds us we’re all human beings,” he said. “We don’t judge you.”
The Christmas Bureau is staffed by many long-term volunteers and runs like a well-oiled machine. But organizers took a gamble last year and tinkered with the check-in process, which eliminated one computer station and cut the check-in time in half.
“We typically don’t change anything,” McCann said. “It’s like a Chia Pet, you add water and just do it like you did it last year.”
Volunteers were holding their breath, but everything went well with the new check-in system last year and it will remain the same this year, McCann said.
The fund raising goal for this year’s Christmas Fund is again $525,000. Donations typically start slow, but increase as Christmas approaches. Daily stories about the Christmas Bureau will published on the front page of The Spokesman-Review through Christmas Day. All donations will be reported. A final story and financial summary - including whether fundraising met the costs - will run January 1.
“I just hope the community does it again this year,” McCann said.
Christmas Bureau by the numbers
- $540,073.39 in donations
- 13,786 children got to unwrap books and toys on Christmas
- 7,540 households received grocery store gift certificates
- 26,012 individuals were served at the Bureau
Since its 1945 inception:
Donors have given $16 million
If you go
Where: Spokane County Fair and Expo Center, 404 N. Havana St.
Hours open: 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Dates: Dec. 8-18, excluding Sundays.
ID requirements: Each adult and child who receives holiday support from the Christmas Bureau must meet identification requirements. Income is not verified.
Adults must bring photo ID for themselves and every person older than 18 living in the household. Additionally, each adult must show proof of address, such as a current utility bill, phone bill or rent receipt listing their name and current physical address. (P.O. boxes are not accepted.)
For children, bring a document from a school, day care center or social service agency verifying each child’s name, address and date of birth. WIC folders are accepted as ID for children.
Social Security cards and Medicaid cards are not valid identification.
No animals: Animals are prohibited except for service dogs. Please leave pets at home.
How to donate
By mail: Checks may be mailed to The Spokesman-Review Christmas Fund, P.O. Box 516, Spokane, WA 99210.
In person: Bring your donation to the lobby of The Spokesman-Review at 999 W. Riverside Ave. Please mark prominently, CHRISTMAS FUND.
Online: Visit www.spokesman.com/sections/christmas-fund and click the PayPal button.
If you’d like us to send you a receipt for your donation, make sure to include your mailing address in PayPal’s comment box. If you’d like a receipt via email, just include a valid email address. In either case, we won’t share your information with anyone or use it for any other reason. And feel free to use the comment box to tell us anything you’d like.
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