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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Books are a big part of the Christmas Bureau’s joy

Four-year-old Alxis Marcille  chose a Dora the Explorer book while in line with her mother Sone Marcille at the Christmas Bureau in Spokane on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013. The book tables are stocked with a variety of books for children of color, especially Native American, Hispanic  and African-American children. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
By Chelsea Bannach Correspondent

Every year at the Christmas Bureau, thousands of children are gifted the joy of reading.

Parents who visit the bureau, which serves low-income families in the region, get to choose not only a new toy, but also a new book for kids 14 and under living in their home.

Bureau volunteer Marilee Roloff is a book buyer and works the book table during the bureau.

For Roloff, the recently retired president and CEO of Volunteers of America, “it’s totally a labor of love.”

“This is my favorite thing to do all year,” she said. “Buying books is fun, but not as much as handing a book out. It is a total joy for me.”

About 20 years ago, Volunteers of America received thousands of free books from Scholastic, so they decided to hand them out at the bureau. Scholastic later stopped giving the books, but bureau organizers decided it was worth spending money on literacy, and the bureau’s literacy program has lived on since.

“I know this sounds cliché, but literacy is a way out of poverty,” Roloff said. “It always has been, always will. If you can read and learn that way, you can do almost anything.”

Reading is also a great way for families to bond, she said.

“When you’re reading to your child, that’s it, that’s what you’re doing,” she said. “You’re looking at each other, you’re laughing together, you’re crying together. That’s a real attachment.”

Roloff said book buyers begin their hunt for good deals the day after Christmas, and continue to search for bargains over the year. Fred Meyer gave $25,000 toward the cost.

Last year, 14,683 children received books and toys at the bureau, which is organized by Catholic Charities Spokane and Volunteers of America.

Buyers strive to buy books for a wide range of ages, reading levels and interests, including science, autobiography, history and fiction. Parents with babies can choose brightly colored board books with ABCs, 123s, animals and more.

They also make sure to buy books featuring children of color.

“We try to have something for everyone,” Roloff said.

As with other aspects of the bureau, the literacy program wouldn’t be possible without the help of many dedicated volunteers.

Roloff’s mother was a member of Alpha Delta Kappa, an international honorary organization for women educators, and many members from the organization have volunteered to help with books over the years.

Volunteer Tana Carosella, an Alpha Delta Kappa member and teacher who retired after about 30 years in education, coordinates the books volunteers.

She said many volunteers return year after year because they’re passionate about “the fact that we are giving children a gift of reading, to continue to immerse them in literature.”

Because most have backgrounds in education, they are adept at helping parents find the perfect book for their child, she said.

Since 1945, the Christmas Bureau has served individuals and families who are in need of assistance during the holiday season. Donations made to the Christmas Fund, run by The Spokesman-Review, pay for the annual bureau.

Carosella said offering the books makes for one less burden for the parents visiting the bureau, who are often struggling to survive day to day yet dedicated to their child’s development.

“The parents are so appreciative,” she said. “They want the very best and they want to help their child. They sincerely put their best efforts in.”

When recipients first arrive at the bureau, they go through intake to verify household members. Then, they get a grocery store gift certificate for a holiday meal. Recipients with children in the home then get to pick out a new book, followed by a new toy.

Carosella said she loves to watch people move through the line and receive the gifts that will make their Christmas a little more special.

“It’s just a very warm feeling,” she said. “It’s a miracle. The Christmas Bureau is a miracle.”

New donations

An anonymous donor gave $500.

St. Joseph Catholic Church in Metaline Falls gave $400.

Edward and Carolyn Knott, of Liberty Lake, gave $250.

Christine Carroll, of Spokane, gave $200, writing “Happy holidays to all. May the season shine with love, kindness, laughter and goodwill.”

Michael and Elizabeth Pontarolo, of Spokane, gave $200.

Two anonymous donors gave $100 each.

Beth Schomburg, of Spokane, gave $100, writing, “Thank you for all the wonderful work you do and all the people you help.”

Joanne Bouma, of Spokane, gave $100.

George and Ruth Swan, of Spokane Valley, gave $100.

Jay Griffiths, of Spokane, gave $50.

An anonymous donor gave $50.

Kathryn Spurgetis gave $50 via PayPal.

TJ Tombari gave $50 via PayPal, who wrote, “I am donating this year in the name of Bill Kuch.”

Donna Douglass, of Spokane, gave $35.

Nancy Cabe gave $25 via PayPal.

For donations made through PayPal, The Spokesman-Review contributed the processing fee.