Affectionately dubbed the Teddy Bear Queen, one of Fern Swecker’s favorite jobs at the Christmas Bureau is sorting more than 6,000 teddy bears and stuffed animals that will be snuggled and hugged by children and adults alike, thanks to fans who tossed them on the ice at the Spokane Chiefs Teddy Bear Toss game last Saturday.
Extra-large animals, the ones big enough to engulf a 7-year-old in fuzzy comfort, go to the toy room where they sit among dolls and cars, balls and art supplies, keyboards and scooters. Small stuffed toys are slotted for the adult-only families who come for a food voucher.
Damaged or unsafe stuffed animals are set aside and the rest of the cuddly menagerie joins their furry friends in the toy room, some coupled with smaller toys as an add-on Christmas gift that likely will cause many hugs and thank-you’s on Christmas morning.
The Christmas Bureau gives toys, books and food vouchers to about 9,000 needy families that have an average reported monthly income of less than $1,300. While hockey fans help with stuffed toys, the rest of the gifts given for more than 15,000 area children are possible only because Spokane residents, businesses and social groups send donations.
The fund is behind its expected pace and needs to raise another $283,208 of the $525,000 needed. About 96 percent of the donations go directly to the toys, books and vouchers, thanks to about 400 volunteers like Swecker, who also works the candy cane table.
While parents or custodial grandparents select books and toys for their children, adults without children who’ve waited in line for a $15 to $30 food voucher can stop by Fern’s candy cane table to select a small plush toy and receive a candy cane.
“We want them to have something,” explained Swecker, who’s volunteered at the bureau for 19 years and rides the bus each day across town so she can help.
“I like serving people, for one thing. I like my supervisors. I like these animals,” she said, hugging a teddy bear to her chest, close to the pin that describes her mood in one word: happy.
“I’m happy. I’m enthusiastic,” she said, adding that the other volunteers have become like family. “These extended family members make my bureau enjoyable every year.”
For volunteer coordinator Brigid Krause, Swecker is an example of the care and compassion that’s a mission and hallmark of the charity.
“She’s thoughtful and meticulous,” Krause said. “She puts loyalty and heart into her job. She’s the Teddy Bear Queen.”
Employees at Pathology Associates Medical Laboratories gave $1,900 with the company matching it for a total of $3,800. “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,” wrote the enterprise donation committee.
Employees at Kimmel Athletic Supply Co. gave $3,000. “May lovely, happy times decorate your holiday season, may warm, special memories brighten your New Year, and may the wonder of Christmas be with you forever. A Christmas tradition such as hanging lights, decorating trees and enjoying family and friends is what the holiday season is all about,” wrote the Kimmel staff. “We are gratified to be a part of the Spokane community and to help support this thoughtful cause of giving.”
John Baumhofer, of Spokane, gave $1,500, an annual donation in memory of his mother and, new for 2014, his aunt.
Walker’s Furniture and Mattress gave $1,500 in appreciation of past and present loyal customers, “in hopes of alleviating some of the hardship observed throughout our community,” wrote president Mark Walker. “We are all blessed to live in a community that so readily helps those in need. This holiday season, let’s unite and spread hopefulness and joy by sharing, in one way or another, with those families who are less fortunate. I believe true fulfillment in life only comes as you help others.”
Matthew Root, of Pullman, gave $1,000 in loving memory of his wife, Sarah Moore. “Sarah had a lifelong commitment to helping others, especially children, and always dedicated much of her time to our community,” he wrote. “She lived her life with compassion and kindness to others.”
“Two Sisters,” of Spokane, gave $1,000 in memory of Mom, Dad, Peggy, Craig, Rick and Jeff. “To all the wonderful volunteers, merry, merry Christmas and a huge ‘Thank you!’ ” they wrote.
An anonymous Spokane donor gave $1,000. “You all do a great job and are appreciated very much. Happy holidays,” she wrote.
Richard and Carol Hendershot, of Spokane, gave $1,000. “We have been so blessed and are grateful to have the opportunity to give to those who need some help,” they wrote.
The Bunko Babes, of Spokane, gave $703. “The women of the ‘South Hill Bunko Babes’ gather monthly for dinner, fellowship and bunko. We share and support each other and because we do that more and play bunko for prizes less, we have $703 this year to donate to the Christmas Fund. We are happy to give so that the Fund can share and support those in our community,” they wrote.
Tim and Jackie Randall, of Cheney, gave $500.
An anonymous Spokane donor gave $500.
Carpenters Local 59, of Spokane, gave $500 via Volunteers of America.
The Rhea Dow Charitable Fund at Schwab Charitable Fund gave $500.
Rick and Diana Wilhite, of Spokane Valley, gave $500 “in memory of those who have gone on before us,” they wrote. “Thank you S-R and all the volunteers who help make Christmas a happy day for those who need a little help.”
Harry Fuhs, of Spokane, gave $300.
An anonymous Spokane Valley donor gave $300.
Janet Gray, of Spokane Valley, gave $300 in memory of her husband, John Gray, who donated every year.
Doug Dominey, of Spokane, gave $291 via PayPal in honor of David Dominey.
Tim and Darlene Holliday, of Spokane, gave $250 in memory of their son Russell “Air Hoss” Holliday.
The students, staff and faculty of the master of anesthesiology education program at Gonzaga University and Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center gave $250, writing that they are happy this annual gift “will provide toys, books and groceries for children and families in Spokane this Christmas.”
David McCabe, of Greenacres, gave $249.78 via PayPal. “Merry Christmas from the Officers of the Spokane Police Department’s South Precinct!”
Neal and Joann Skaufel, of Veradale, gave $240.
Margaret Miller, of Spokane, gave $216.
Tom and Nancy Nelson, of Colbert, gave $200.
Clayton and Linda Dunn, of Spokane, gave $200. “The pleasure of giving makes Christmas complete,” they wrote.
Spokane donors giving $200 include Dave Wilson, Donald and Diana Storey, Linda Cannon, Patricia and Allan Morrison, Robert Breidenbach, and Carl and Dennie Crowe, who wrote, “With our thanks for all you do through the Christmas Bureau – Amazing!”
Bill Molsberry, of Spokane, gave $193.90 via PayPal, as did an anonymous donor.
Sandra and Ralph Laws, of Cheney, gave $180.
Gary and Vicki Erickson, of Medical Lake, gave $150.
Spokane donors giving $150 were Dallas Dixon, and Richard and Sharon Myers.
Jon Scott, of Spokane Valley, gave $125.
Beth Schomburg, of Spokane, gave $110. “Thanks to all the wonderful volunteers who help make this holiday season joyous for all the participants,” she wrote.
An anonymous Spokane donor gave $105.
Timothy Halpin, of Colbert, gave $101.65 via PayPal.
Jeffrey Danner, of Spokane Valley, gave $100 in memory of his stepmother Clara Danner, which was reported without the memorial on Saturday. “We lost her on the 19th last year after she battled breast cancer the third time,” he said, describing how his parents, Karl and Clara Danner, had been longtime donors of the Christmas Bureau, harkening back to the days when it was called the Yule Fund.
Kenneth and Helen Evans, of Mead, gave $100, as did Sue Blankenship, of Newman Lake; David Looney, of Newport; Diana Flory, of Otis Orchards; and Ethos Venture, of Pacifica, California.
Four anonymous Spokane donors each gave $100, one in memory of Grace Nissen, who recently died. “She was a good friend and will be missed by many,” they wrote.
Spokane donors giving $100 include Barb and Ken Meng, Don and Vicki Gorden, James and Nola Carollo, John and Dolores Skelton, Donna and Leslie Dieckman, and Jim and Margo Walesby.
Cleve and Brit Penberthy, of Spokane, gave $100 in memory of Adeline Penberthy and Ingebrigt Erdsmo.
Emmett and Marylu Arndt, of Spokane, gave $100. “Merry Christmas to all recipients and volunteers,” they wrote.
Gary Jones, of Spokane, gave $100 in memory of Megan Brinson.
The Bott Family, of Spokane, gave $100 in memory of Shane Novak.
An anonymous Spokane Valley donor gave $100. “We appreciate all that you do for needy families. We also appreciate reading the news about your good work in the paper,” they wrote.
Dean and Liz Grafos, of Spokane Valley, gave $100, as did Teresa and Richard Hagelin.
Stella Debarros, of Spokane, gave $96.80 via PayPal, as did Steven Anderson, of Spokane, and John Cooper, of Spokane Valley.
Gary Fiscus, of Liberty Lake, gave $75.
Jeff and Chris Stevens, of Spokane, gave $72.52 via PayPal, as did Wendy Budge.
Laura and Larry Isaak, of Deer Park, gave $50.
An anonymous Spokane donor gave $50.
Clarence and Ann Howards, of Spokane, gave $50 in loving memory of their parents. “Thank you for making a day of sharing for all,” they wrote.
Dudley Mizoguchi, of Spokane, gave $50 in memory of John Traynor, as did Jody Leifer.
Joe and Cobi Guerrinha, of Spokane Valley, gave $50 in honor and memory of Joaquin and Candida Guerrinha and Clif and Winn Basch.
Kent and Sharon Ohland, of Spokane Valley, gave $50 in honor and memory of their dear parents, Russ and Helen Inman and Vern and Jeri Ohland. “They all loved the holiday season and gave us many memories to cherish. Thank you for all the good work you do to make the holidays memorable for so many others,” they wrote.
Jerry Hubbard, of Spokane, gave $48.25 via PayPal.
Carl and Mary Sturm, of Spokane, gave $25 in memory of three special people who passed this year: Craig Thomas, Meaghan Brinson and Libby Hodges. Respectively, “they gave of themselves in war and community, in teaching and children and battling breast cancer for many years … They were inspirations to all who knew them!”
David and Deanna Sommers, of Spokane, gave $25, as did Mary Jane O’Neill, and Richard and Marsha Malsom.
Jane Lacock, of Deer Park, gave $20, as did an anonymous Spokane donor.
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