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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Christmas Fund gears up to channel region’s generosity

Catholic Charities computer programmer Mike Fischer (in back on right) teaches volunteers (left to right) Mick Soss, Christy Folkins, Jay Walter and Cande Krall how to use the new Christmas Bureau database software, at the Catholic Charities office, Monday, Nov. 21, 2016. The new computer system is designed to streamline the check-in process. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Catholic Charities computer programmer Mike Fischer (in back on right) teaches volunteers (left to right) Mick Soss, Christy Folkins, Jay Walter and Cande Krall how to use the new Christmas Bureau database software, at the Catholic Charities office, Monday, Nov. 21, 2016. The new computer system is designed to streamline the check-in process. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
By Chelsea Bannach Correspondent

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

The Christmas Fund, a long-standing tradition of giving during the holiday season in the Inland Northwest, kicks off today.

Now in its 71st year, the Christmas Fund has spread good cheer and served a vital role in the community by providing assistance to those less fortunate during the holiday season.

Money raised from generous community members goes to pay for the Christmas Bureau. For nine days in December, people from throughout the region can visit the Christmas Bureau to receive a grocery store gift certificate to pay for a holiday meal, ranging from $15 to $30, depending on household size. Children 17 and under receive a new gift, and children 14 and under also receive a new book. Candy and stuffed animals are distributed during the Bureau, as well, and entertainers perform throughout the event.

“The atmosphere is festive and organized, and every day, you can feel the true spirit of Christmas throughout the room,” said Rob McCann, president and CEO of Catholic Charities Spokane. “Recipients have the opportunity to shop from a great selection of toys and books and listen to holiday music provided live by many local artists and groups, a bit like a trip to the mall.”

The Spokesman-Review collects donations for the event through its Christmas Fund, and directs the funds to Catholic Charities Spokane and Volunteers of America, the nonprofit organizations that run the Christmas Bureau.

This year, some changes are taking place at the Bureau, including the implementation of a new computer program that organizers hope will improve the experience for recipients and volunteers.

“It’s really going to streamline things,” said Judy Lee, Christmas Bureau coordinator with Catholic Charities Spokane. “It’s going to eliminate the need for recipients to stand in line twice.”

The number of people served each year at the Bureau is staggering.

In 2015, more than $525,000 was donated to the Christmas Fund.

The donations meant 14,683 children – who might otherwise not have received anything under the tree – got to unwrap books and toys on Christmas.

More than 8,140 households received grocery store gift certificates.

In all, 27,410 individuals were served at the Bureau, which is open to all who feel the need for assistance.

Generous donations from private donors and sponsorships from local businesses make it possible year after year. Since its 1945 inception, community donors have given nearly $15,500,000.

“The entire city of Spokane and surrounding community know and love this event,” McCann said.

This year, organizers once again are aiming to raise $525,000 to fund the Bureau; donations of any amount are greatly appreciated.

The Bureau also relies on the gift of time from hundreds of volunteers, many of whom love the Bureau so much that they return again and again.

In all, 600 volunteers gave 7,356 hours of service last year. Many volunteers say they benefit as much or more from volunteering at the Bureau as the recipients who visit it do.

Volunteer Coordinator Brigid Kraus said they get so much interest in volunteering they have to stop accepting applications as early as fall.

“I’m always impressed by the dedication of these volunteers,” Krause said. “It is truly humbling. We have many that have been coming for years. It’s part of their tradition to come.”

With the support of those volunteers and donors, this year’s Christmas Bureau is sure to leave hearts glowing around the region once again.

“The Christmas Bureau is what a community looks like when it is at its very best, and we at Catholic Charities get to be a significant part of it every year,” McCann said. “We wouldn’t have it any other way.”

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