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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Longtime Christmas Bureau gatekeeper runs on the smiles of children

By Nina Culver The Spokesman-Review

Every October Janet “Pinki” Culbertson puts a bright streak of pink in her hair, but it’s not because of her childhood nickname. It’s to recognize breast cancer awareness month.

But when Culbertson sits down at the computer intake station at the Christmas Bureau Friday, the longtime volunteer will have a streak of blue in her hair to match her Christmas Bureau sweatshirt.

Culbertson said she initially hesitated about volunteering at the Christmas Bureau because she mistakenly thought she had to be Catholic to help out at the annual event that is put on in part by Catholic Charities. Now she’s upset that she didn’t start long before 2008 and is often the first to arrive and the last to leave every day.

“I just love it so much,” she said.

At first she volunteered where needed but now has settled into regular shifts at the intake desk, where she checks people’s identification and puts them in the system.

“I love the children,” she said. “I love the smiles on their faces.”

She also enjoys meeting people from other countries and notes how similar everyone is. “We’re all the same,” she said. “We just want love.”

Some people who visit the Christmas Bureau don’t speak English and there are several interpreters on hand. Their Russian interpreter is in high demand, but Culbertson said what the Christmas Bureau really needs is someone who speaks Marshallese.

Culbertson said her job is one of the hardest at the Bureau, partly because of the stories she hears from people who have waited hours in line for a food voucher and toys for their children. “I end up crying a lot,” she said. “But on the other hand I get to know them. It keeps things in perspective.”

The other part of her job that is difficult is sometimes having to turn people away because they don’t have identification. Culbertson said she often gets creative in trying to work out a solution in order to avoid turning people away. Having Department of Social and Health Services employees on site helps with that, she said.

“We do everything we can to make it work,” she said. “It’s hard. They’ve come such a long way sometimes.”

Those who are turned away are given a red ticket so when they come back with the proper identification they can go to the front of the line, Culbertson said.

Though Culbertson is excited that the Christmas Bureau is opening this week, she already knows she’ll be sorry to see it close.

“It’s just so special,” she said. “It’s so sad when it’s over.”

The Spokesman-Review has been collecting donations for the Christmas Bureau since Thanksgiving and money has been trickling in. But on Friday volunteers will start handing out food vouchers, toys and books, making new donations all the more important. Everything collected goes directly to the Christmas Bureau.

Today’s donations of $18,670 have pushed the year to date total to $116,119.86, which is still a long way away from the goal of $525,000.

When the Bureau opens on Friday it will be operating on faith that the people of Spokane can once again meet that goal.

Geraldine Faitof Spokane donated $10,000 in memory of her husband, Fred W. Fait. The lifelong Spokane resident died in 2012. Fait had served as an aerial gunner in the U.S. Navy during World War II and retired from the Washington Air National Guard in 1984. He also spent 31 years with the Spokane Police Department, retiring in 1980.

Kile Machine and Manufacturing Inc. of Rosalia donated $3,500 in memory of Bill Kuch, who volunteered with the Christmas Bureau for nearly 30 years before he died last year.

Nancy Armstrong of Spokane Valley donated $500 via Pay Pal. Wendy Perry of Medical Lake sent $500 along with a note that read “May the peace of Christmas renew your souls.” John and Janet Peterson of Spokane also contributed $500.

Carl and Dee Dee Christian of Spokane donated $400. “Thank you so much for all your hard work to make this special time of year better for so many,” wrote Dee Dee. “I would like to contribute by making this donation in memory of my mom, Marlene Hollenback, my dad, Denny Waltermire and my grandparents, Mark and Allene Hollenback, all of whom are greatly missed but still loved a lot.”

Nancy Edwards of Spokane Valley sent $350. Linda Tetrault sent $300 via Pay Pal. An anonymous Spokane donor sent $300. Margo McBride donated $200 via Pay Pal. Jon and Judy Scott sent $200. Orval and Anita Janssen of Spokane donated $250. Lois Richards of Spokane sent $175. An anonymous retired newspaper employee sent a check for $160.

Dennis Fredrickson of Spokane donated $100, as did Barry Chapman and Jessie Norris of Spokane. Paul and Connie Zimmerman of Spokane and Daniel Simonson of Spokane each donated $100 via Pay Pal. Beverly Hayes of Nine Mile Falls also donated $100.

Lesley Tate of Careywood, Idaho, donated $100 in memory of her mother, Mary Belle Webb. Lowell Severud of Surprise, Arizona, sent $100. An anonymous donor in Colbert donated $100, as did W.H. Selzer of Spokane. Charlotte and John Sullivan of Spokane donated $100 in memory of Charles and Opal McCoy.

Scott Engstrom of Spokane donated $80 via Pay Pal. Louise Inman of Spokane contributed $50. Loretta Cobb donated $50 in memory of Glen Prosser. Judy H. Smith of Spokane donated $50 via Pay Pal. Brittany Garwood of Spokane sent $30 via Pay Pal. Marge Boyles of Spokane contributed $25, as did Joanne Hart of Spokane. Deborah Nielsen contributed $20 via Pay Pal. Judith Horton of Coeur d’Alene sent $5.

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

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