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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Volunteers eager to serve

Christmas Bureau work a tradition in many families

From left, Paul Dorning, Hal Ellis and Christy Folkins test Christmas Bureau data entry systems on Tuesday at St. Anne’s in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland)
From left, Paul Dorning, Hal Ellis and Christy Folkins test Christmas Bureau data entry systems on Tuesday at St. Anne’s in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland)

Long before holiday décor and trendy toys fill store aisles, Christmas Bureau organizers are busy as elves. They’ve made lists and checked them twice, bought toys and books, organized volunteers into shifts, tested computers and lined up entertainment.

Now, like tinsel on a tree, the final details are falling into place for the event that showcases Spokane’s tradition of caring and compassion through the Christmas Bureau, which provides toys, books and food vouchers for more than 9,000 needy families.

It’s an event that volunteers anticipate as much as a child looks forward to Christmas morning.

“People are anxious to have this experience, to do something that matters in their community. It becomes their tradition,” Christmas Bureau coordinator Judy Lee said of the 400-plus volunteers, many of whom sign up to help year after year.

Last week, for example, Paul Dorning, Christy Folkins and Hal Ellis were busy testing computers to ensure the process runs as quickly and smoothly as possible for the 30,000 people who may wait in line for hours during the Christmas Bureau, which runs Dec. 10-19, excluding Dec. 14.

“We hope the recipients walk away feeling the warmth, happiness and respect they deserve,” said Folkins. She doesn’t expect people will remember their gifts years from now, but she knows they’ll remember an event that gives dignity and hope to struggling families. She knows because each year she hears a heartfelt “thank you” uttered over and over.

At the Christmas Bureau, which was founded in 1945, less-fortunate families select one toy for each of their children and one book for each child through age 14. Each household also receives a $15 to $30 grocery voucher, based on family size, so they can buy fixings for Christmas dinner.

The charity is a communitywide effort. It’s organized as a partnership of The Spokesman-Review, Volunteers of America and Catholic Charities, staffed with an army of volunteers and funded by newspaper readers.

Last year more than 1,700 generous donors, from businesses and social groups to families and individuals, gave $582,402 to ensure every child in the area had a gift to open on Christmas morning. For many, donating has become part of their own seasonal traditions, a way to give back.

And every dollar is appreciated.

“With all the struggles people go through, being able to help parents provide a little something for their children at Christmas time makes a difference. We’re helping them by providing quality gifts and wonderful books so they can provide some joy for their children,” said Lee, stressing that the charity wouldn’t be possible without both volunteers and donors.

Once again, the Christmas Bureau requests your support. Between now and Christmas, the charity needs to raise $525,000. Donations are listed in daily stories in The Spokesman-Review.

Because volunteer labor and in-kind donations keep overhead costs low, about 96 percent of the money raised pays for the vouchers, toys and books that will be distributed.

Last year the bureau served more than 30,000 people, 15,266 of them children. The average monthly reported income was $1,168, an amount that makes it difficult to pay basic bills, much less purchase presents.

“This makes me so aware of how meaningful this is,” said Lee. “This is possibly the only gift – or the only quality gift – these kids receive.”

For the volunteers, helping at the charity event to make Christmas merry for so many needy families is a way to infuse their own season with joy.

“The big thing for me is seeing the reaction of the recipients, the feeling you get from seeing people be helped,” said Ellis. “These are people in need. The gratitude you see, that’s what brings me back every year.”

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