Fred Preston was working as a roofer in 1991 when then Volunteers of America director Ken Trent recruited him to provide a strong back to help set up the Christmas Bureau.
He drove a truck, carried tables and performed other tasks for one day. “I helped them set up,” he said. “I had no idea what they were doing.”
The next year, Trent made the same request. Preston agreed, but asked what the Christmas Bureau was all about. He’s been volunteering with the Bureau every year since.
“I hung on and started helping them out,” he said. “That’s when I realized that Ken had given me something I’d never had in my whole life, to give somebody something and expect nothing in return.”
Preston didn’t retire from roofing until 2012 after 40 years of nailing shingles, but the largely seasonal job left him free to volunteer every year. But there were a couple times when his boss wanted him to work but Preston turned him down.
“That’s my Christmas,” he said of his volunteer work. “That’s how much it means to me.”
While Preston may be near the top of the longevity list for Christmas Bureau volunteers, he’s among many who keep coming back year after year. “You’re hooked,” he said. “You are so hooked. Something special happened.”
Preston is a greeter. He says hello to people in line, some of whom are eager to start a conversation. He’s also a runner, shuttling things back and forth to other volunteers. During his first year as a greeter in 1992 there was a long line of people waiting outside in the cold for their food vouchers and toys. He said Trent tried to get him to come inside where it was warm, but Preston refused. He said if those parents and grandparents could wait out in the cold, so could he.
Preston said he is forever grateful that Trent asked him to help. “That man meant a lot to me,” he said. “He made me realize what life was all about in terms of giving.”
Though Preston has been a faithful volunteer, he ran into a scheduling conflict this year. His annual fishing trip with his best friend, which is usually the first week of December, got pushed back this year. Preston will miss the first few days the Bureau is open.
But not to worry. Another friend, Jack Kittilstved, a fellow roofer who Preston recruited as a volunteer a few years ago, has agreed to step into the role of chief greeter and runner until Preston returns.
Despite his long tenure at the Bureau, Preston would prefer that any recognition go to the hundreds of other volunteers involved. “There’s so many other people,” he said. “It takes all those people to make it run smooth.”
While he may have retired from roofing, Preston doesn’t see himself retiring from this labor of love. “It’s just something I’ll never not do,” he said. “If I’m standing, I’ll be there.”
An early surge in donations brought in $39,560.20, bringing the year to date total to $60,954.68. The goal this year is to collect $525,000 to pay for food vouchers, toys and books.
The Madeleine Muths Memorial Fund managed by the Inland Northwest Community Foundation donated $19,752.
An anonymous Liberty Lake donor sent a check for $10,000.
Pathology Associates Medical Laboratories in Spokane sent donations totaling $2,600, some of which came from employees, along with a letter. “In these hard economic times, PAML is aware of the growing need in our community and would like to take this opportunity to encourage the organizations that assist our community on a daily basis,” they wrote. “Please use this donation to further the mission of your organization and assist the ongoing needs within our community.”
The Bergquist Foundation in Spokane donated $2,500. The Guy and Ruth Reed Memorial Fund managed by the Northwest Community Foundation donated $2,153.
Terry Deno of Spokane donated $500 via Pay Pal. An anonymous Spokane donor sent $500. Mike and Ione Howson of Spokane sent $300 via Pay Pal. Bill and Deb Pierce of Liberty Lake donated $240 via Pay Pal.
Ryan and Gwen Taylor of Spokane sent $100. Bob and Nancy James and Edward and Carolyn Knott, all of Liberty Lake, donated $100 each. Phyllis Eide of Spokane sent $100 “to honor all who work to bring light to those in dark situations.” Margie Byers of Spokane sent $100 in memory of her parents, John L. and Marguerite Cooney. Mary Giannini of Spokane donated $100 via Pay Pal in memory of Wally R. Cummings.
Mary Anne and Jerry Littlemore of Spokane donated $100. Mary Anne included a note that said it is important that children have a happy Christmas. “I know, because I am 78 and I am still a child at heart,” she wrote. “My oh my do I get excited inside my stomach every time I see Santa. So our hope for this year is that every child will be able to experience that same feeling.”
She also included her well wishes to the volunteers who make Christmas special. “Merry Christmas to all of you that help by volunteering during this holiday season,” she wrote.
Veronica Murphy Malhotra donated $75 via Pay Pal. An anonymous donor gave $50 and included a short note that read: “What you do is so important. God bless you!” Steve, Gail and Ben Quaid of Colbert sent $50, as did Jeffrey and Judy Koons of Spokane. An anonymous donor gave $35. Donald Brown of Spokane donated $25. Vickie Warren donated $20 via Pay Pal.
For donations made through PayPal, The Spokesman-Review contributed the processing fee.