The Christmas Bureau serves everyone. Some are unemployed or underemployed. There are those who have been laid off or are perhaps homeless. Some parents work hard, but still need help getting a Christmas present for their children. Many count on the food voucher, which ranges from $15 to $30 depending on family size.
Single parents come. Couples arrive with their children. Adults struggling to live on a fixed income stand in line. So do grandparents raising their grandchildren.
There is no single story that fits the thousands of recipients who need the Christmas Bureau every year. They tell of lost jobs and lost homes, circumstances that could affect any one of us without warning. But one thing they do have in common is their reliance on the Christmas Bureau, which is funded completely by readers’ generosity.
The Spokesman-Review spoke Monday with people at the Christmas Bureau. Here is a brief recounting of their stories:
Chelsea Haynes and Shannon Bickell
Chelsea Haynes is especially grateful for the food voucher.
With a 14-year-old son and a 4-month-old daughter, she needed the help.
“I haven’t been here in a few years, but I’m only working part time,” she said. “Without this I can’t go to the store and get the extras for Christmas.”
Shannon Bickell has five children at home and works in construction. But there isn’t much work available this time of year.
“We’re having a tight year this year, too,” she said. “It means everything. You don’t have enough to put anything under the tree or food on the table.”
Haynes appreciates what the bureau does for her and people like her.
“It helps out so many families,” she said. “We appreciate everybody’s time they put into it. They’re not getting paid, they’re just there because their hearts are in it.”
Devin DeBoer is a full-time student working to get recertified as a metal worker. He and his wife, Tatiana Perez, have three children.
The youngest is 5 months.
After the couple paid the rent and bills, they just didn’t have enough money to buy gifts. So they went to the Christmas Bureau and picked out a book and toy for each child.
“At least I had the opportunity to get some good stuff for the kids,” he said. “It actually makes us feel a lot better.”
He looks forward to getting back to work and providing for his children again.
“This is something very good that they’re doing,” he said.
Julie Peone is busy. And generous.
She works as a dental assistant, cares for a woman with Down syndrome and helps her daughter raise her four grandchildren.
“I’m a part-time grandma, part-time mom,” she said. “I love this place. It helps me a lot at Christmas time. The food voucher really, really helps.”
She appreciated the collection of services offered at the Christmas Bureau. The state’s Apple Health program was on site and helped her renew her insurance. She also liked that DSHS and the Spokane County Library District and Spokane Public Libraries were there as well.
“They just really think of everything,” she said. “The volunteers are so happy and loving and kind. You don’t ever feel discriminated against for being poor.”
Lynnette Tate’s children are grown, but she and her husband still need a little help. She’s been on crutches since she hurt her knee in 1999. At the time she didn’t have medical insurance, but she does now and is hoping to have surgery soon. She received a $25 food voucher and a pair of gloves for herself and her husband.
“It means a lot,” she said. “Twenty-five dollars ain’t much, but it’s at least some meat for the family.”
She appreciates the work the Christmas Bureau does.
“I used to come here when I had all five kids at home,” she said. “They have such great gifts.”
Harold Hubbard is 61, disabled and lives on a fixed income of $750 a month.
On Monday, he received a $15 food voucher and gloves.
“That little extra voucher is something that comes in handy for some of us,” he said. He plans to use it for some extras, like cookies.
“When you live life on a budget, it’s hard to get what you want,” he said. “Hopefully you get what you need, but you don’t get what you want.”
He counts himself lucky to have a place to live.
“I’m luckier than some,” he said. “The Christmas Bureau means there’s at least an opportunity to get a little extra something. I’m glad the bureau is here. People need to remember this only happens because people donate.”
Levrrla Merical walks with a cane and has been homeless the past two months.
She used to spend her entire disability check on rent, but was recently approved for Section 8 housing and is looking for an apartment.
She came primarily for the food voucher.
“Otherwise I wouldn’t have something to eat,” the 60-year-old said. “It’s pinching pennies just to survive. This right here helps. It’s a constant struggle.”
In previous years she collected toys at the bureau for her two grandchildren, whom she was helping to raise. It was the only way she could get gifts and get food for Christmas dinner.
“Their help has been such a blessing,” she said.
Bryce Bower came to the Christmas Bureau with his wife, Samantha Cannata, and their two sons, Lukas, who is 1, and Leighton, who is 2 weeks old.
Bower usually works as detailer, but just got laid off before Thanksgiving.
A family member suggested they visit the bureau to pick out some toys for his boys. His oldest son loves Thomas the Train and will be getting a book and a train set for Christmas thanks to the bureau. Bower is grateful his children will be getting gifts this year despite his situation.
“It means a lot,” Bower said. “They deserve the world. Even though we’re struggling, there are good people out there to help.”
Dan and Monica Hickam
Dan and Monica Hickam are homeless as they recover from addiction. They have been together for 38 years.
“We’re drug-free now,” Dan Hickam said.
Their four children are grown, but the couple used to come to the Christmas Bureau to get gifts for them when they were young.
“They’ve helped us over the years and it’s been great,” he said of the bureau.
The Hickams received a food voucher and two pairs of new gloves.
Hickam said he knew he and his wife would be accepted at the bureau as they try their best to stay drug-free. “It’s a really hard thing.”
The goal of raising $525,000 for the Christmas Bureau is still far away, with $10,425 in new donations coming in to raise the year-to-date total to $280,536.13. What isn’t far away, however, is Christmas. The big day is a week away and the Catholic Charities and Volunteers of America are counting on donations to fund the food vouchers, gifts and books they are giving to needy families all this week.
Ron and Sharon Kile, of Rosalia, Washington, donated $2,500 in memory of their brother-in-law, Bill Kuch, who handled the toy buying for the Christmas Bureau for nearly 30 years.
Georgene Patten, of Spokane, donated $1,000 on behalf of the Patten Family 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,” she wrote. “Thanks to all your volunteers who do so much to brighten the holidays the families in the community as well as thanks to your associates – Catholic Charities and Volunteers of America. Blessings for continuation of this amazing holiday support to those in our community who see that Spokane is a wonderful caring community for all.”
Dennis and Donna Kelly, of Spokane, gave $500 in memory of Don Kelly, a longtime Christmas Bureau volunteer. An anonymous Liberty Lake donor gave $500. Craig and Pauline Soehren, of Spokane, sent $500. Lawrence Kiewert, of Deer Park, contributed $500. Sharon Carson, of Spokane, sent $500 via PayPal.
Carol Kriegh, of Cheney, sent $300. “My two Cheney book clubs would like to donate this money toward books for children at the Christmas Bureau,” she wrote. “Thank you for the wonderful work that you do! Merry Christmas!” Gary and Vicki Erickson, of Medical Lake, gave $250.
Donna Troyer, of Spokane, donated $200, as did William and Sharon Beck, of Otis Orchards. Marie Dawson, of Spokane, gave $200. “Christmas blessings to all the volunteers and the families who benefit from your generous services,” she wrote. An anonymous Greenacres donor contributed $200. William and Georgette Savitz, of Spokane, gave $200. Francis Goodman, of Spokane, and Renae Younker, of Newman Lake, each gave $200 via PayPal.
Jim McGranahan, of Sun City, Arizona, gave $155 “in memory of my loving Sheila.” Eric and Katherine Grimsrud, of Liberty Lake, gave $150. An anonymous Spokane donor sent $150 and a note for the Christmas Bureau volunteers, writing “Thanks for all you do for so many. It is appreciated.”
Donna Hares, of Spokane, contributed $100, as did two anonymous Spokane donors. Tom and Sue Eastman, of Spokane Valley, gave $100 in honor of their grandchildren. Pat and Janine Maggart, of Spokane, donated $100, as did Ray and Klea Copeland, of Spokane.
Peggy and Robert Frank, of Spokane, gave $100 in memory of Joan Ader. An anonymous donor from LaCrosse, Washington, sent $100 along with a note that read “Thank you for the opportunity to help!” Leslie and Emil Wunderle, of Spokane, contributed $100.
Harvey and Diane Morrison, of Spokane, donated $100. Carol Lippman, of Spokane Valley, gave $100. Kathleen Petersen, of Liberty Lake, sent $100 via PayPal, as did D. Gerald Searfoss.
Robert and LeeAnn Hanke, of Spokane, contributed $100. Ernest and Kathleen Mangum, of Medical Lake, gave $50. Mary Cannon and Joe Hanson, of Nine Mile Falls, donated $100. “Keep up the great work!” they wrote. “Merry holidays.”
An anonymous Spokane Valley donor sent $50. Gordon Goodban and Katherine Strickler each contributed $50 via PayPal. Stephen Mundt and Sandra Hatch, both of Spokane, each donated $50. An anonymous Mead donor gave $50. Charles and Sharon Preston, of Nine Mile Falls, donated $50.
Laura and Steven Nestoss, of Spokane Valley, gave $35. An anonymous Spokane donor sent $35 in memory of Mac and Bernie: “Thank you for making a difference.”
An anonymous donor contributed $25, writing “Blessings to the Christmas Bureau. Thank you for all the volunteers that assist all those families so they can have a very Merry Christmas. God’s blessing to you all.” Phyllis Adams, of Spokane, gave $25 via PayPal.
For donations made through Pay Pal, The Spokesman-Review contributed the processing fee.
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