For organizers of the Christmas Bureau, safety is paramount.
Every year, hundreds of volunteers and thousands of recipients convene at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center for the bureau, which provides assistance to those less fortunate during the holidays.
Other than some relatively minor medical emergencies – including women going into labor – there haven’t been any crises at the bureau, now in its 71st year.
“I feel blessed that we have not had any serious problems,” said Special Event Coordinator Judy Lee, with Catholic Charities Spokane.
Regardless, organizers provide training to volunteers on what to do in case of an emergency. And if anything does happen, they have a trusted security officer they know they can rely on.
Rashad Salah, 32, has worked the Christmas Bureau for several years. He says it’s one of his favorite jobs.
“I love working the Christmas Bureau,” Salah said. “ You get to cheer up everybody else. It really is a fun event.”
Before his shift starts, Salah scopes everything out and makes mental maps of the site, noting which gates are accessible to emergency vehicles, and the quickest way to get them on-site.
“You just kind of have to know, and know ahead of time, and map out a game plan in your head, in case there is an emergency,” he said.
Tensions can run high this time of year, especially for those struggling to get by during the holidays, but Salah greets recipients and gracefully manages the long line that forms outside during the bureau. He is a consummate professional, but also friendly and compassionate, spreading good cheer to those who visit the bureau, Lee said.
“A lot of what he does is just talking to people, making them feel comfortable,” she said. “I think he puts people at ease. He’s like a goodwill ambassador, as well as a security guard.”
In 2014, Salah waited until after the Christmas Bureau closed to fly to Tunisia to marry his now-wife. It took another year and a half to get her to the U.S. legally, but now she’s here and “life is great,” he said.
While Salah loves working security at the bureau, he ultimately hopes to become a certified public accountant. He starts school at Spokane Community College in January, so this might be his last year at the event.
Salah, who works for Kodiak Security Services, said it’s more than just a job to him. He learned through growing up playing soccer to bring his A-game every day.
“To me, I don’t believe that you’re just going to work and doing a job for the company,” Salah said. “You’re doing a job for yourself and others around you, and you represent yourself.”
Lee said Salah “has been with us long enough that he is family.”
“If there is a medical problem or other issue, he steps up to the plate and knows how to handle it,” she said. “We have been very fortunate to have him for a number of years.”
Gail and Roberta Keeling, of Otis Orchards, gave $950 in honor of their children, and three grandsons, Taylor Merkley, 20, Kolby Keeling, 12, and Ryan Keeling, 11, as well as in memory of longtime friend Judy Kruiswyk, who passed away after a long battle with breast cancer.
Steven and Linda Swartley, of Spokane, gave $250.
An anonymous donor gave $200.
James and Jeanette Koppa, of Spokane Valley, gave $200.
Harley and Melanie Reckord, of Spokane, gave $100, as did Jerry and Joan White, and W.H. and Virginia Selzer.
Jan Eastman, of Spokane Valley, gave $100.
An anonymous donor gave $100.
Ray and Elizabeth Schatz, of Spokane, gave $53, writing, “We give again this year in memory of Karen Schatz Dunning, who would have been 53 years old this year.”
Shirley McKenney, of Spokane Valley, gave $50, in memory of her husband, Richard McKenney, and her grandson, Nicholas Clason.
Doris Matsch, of Spokane, gave $25.
For donations made through PayPal, The Spokesman-Review contributed the processing fee.
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