Earlier this month, The Spokesman-Review published a story that touched on the history of the Christmas Bureau. The article explained that the Christmas Fund started in 1945 as a fundraiser for a GI who lost his eyesight, one arm below the elbow and the use of his other hand in a mine explosion in Germany.
When Spokane residents Larry and Renee Cebula first told their son about the Christmas Bureau – a place where needy families can “shop” for Christmas presents for free – Sam’s reaction was probably pretty typical for a kid. “He said, ‘Can I go?’ ” Larry recalled.
Christmas Bureau volunteers come from all walks of life. Some have never had to worry about affording to feed their families. Others, at some point while the bureau was open, stood in line and received help like the almost 35,900 other recipients.
Although she grew up in Spokane, Crystal Ugolini had never heard of the Christmas Bureau before last week. Ugolini and her husband moved back to Spokane from Georgia this year, after he ended his military career. With five children – including a 9-year-old with autism and a 1-year-old with a bone disease and a deformed leg – the couple have their hands full. They work opposite shifts so one of them is always with the children, and their budget is tight.
The 2009 Christmas Bureau will shut its doors today after 10 days of service to the Spokane area’s neediest families. Meanwhile, the Rev. Msgr. Frank Bach, a retired Catholic priest who has been involved with the bureau since 1964, will close his own chapter. Bach, 79, is stepping down as one of the program’s volunteer organizers.
Some donors give their names, perhaps hoping to spur friends and colleagues to donate, too. Others, including some of Spokane’s most well-known figures, prefer to remain anonymous.While the vast majority of donations to The Spokesman-Review Christmas Fund come from the Spokane area, donors in remote parts of Washington and as far away as Illinois have sent checks this year. On Thursday, a donation came from one of the most unlikely sources: a Christmas Bureau recipient.
Christmas Bureau volunteers say they’re hearing it over and over: Recipients are seeking help from the charity for the first time, often because a family member recently lost a job. “They feel like they’re out of options,” said volunteer Bonni Atkinson, of Valleyford.
Imagine being poor and hungry and wanting to celebrate Christmas with your family. Now imagine you don’t understand the language spoken where you live. You don’t know where or how to apply for a job. You can’t read signs telling people where they can find help.