Holiday traditions are an important part of the season and The Spokesman-Review, Catholic Charities and the Volunteers of America are once again teaming up to offer food vouchers, toys and books to needy families in Eastern Washington and North Idaho.
The annual effort dates to 1945 and has collected $16.5 million since then. The Spokesman-Review collects the donations, which are distributed to Catholic Charities and the Volunteers of America. None of the money is used for overhead. Every penny collected goes directly into the Christmas stockings of people who need a little help at Christmas.
The goal is once again to collect $525,000 and the community almost always meets the goal. Last year, donors gave $544,332.63 to help more than 26,000 people. It was well above the goal of $525,000 but didn’t meet the all-time high of $578,404.44 collected in 2013.
This year the Christmas Bureau will be open at the Spokane County Fairgrounds from Dec. 12 to 21, excluding Sunday. Volunteers have been preparing all year, buying toys and books to be given to families during the hectic week and a half.
This year the Christmas Bureau will be open on only one Saturday, said Catholic Charities director Rob McCann. “It’s all about the calendar,” he said. “It depends on what day of the week Christmas falls on. Ninety percent of the time it includes two Saturdays.”
The Christmas Bureau is designed to help those who might find themselves in temporary hardship after a death or a job loss as well as the working poor who need a little help with some extras, McCann said.
“This was always designed to help those people,” he said. “It’s not going to transform a life, but it could transform a Christmas.”
McCann said he can’t imagine not doing the Christmas Bureau.
“The reason we’ve been doing this so many decades is partly because of tradition,” he said. “Much more importantly, it’s for the cause of dignity.”
The volunteers, many of whom return year after year and sign up for shifts months in advance, are fiercely devoted to the Christmas Bureau.
“The volunteers are the heart and soul of all this,” he said. “The volunteers are what is going to keep the Christmas Bureau going forever.”
Every year, Catholic Charities evaluates and assesses each of its programs to determine if they will continue, but McCann said that doesn’t apply to the Christmas Bureau.
“You don’t dare suggest making changes to the Christmas Bureau,” he said. “We would never not do the Christmas Bureau. The volunteers would insist on it.”
Volunteers of America buys the books that are given out to children every year. VOA CEO Fawn Schott said she stops by the bureau a lot when it is open. She’s always impressed by how diligent the parents are in picking out a book they think their child will like.
“It always strikes me how much time and effort they spend picking out the perfect book for them to read together,” she said. “They’re not haphazardly grabbing books.”
While the Christmas Bureau is open, McCann spends a lot of time at the fairgrounds helping out.
“What I usually get struck by every year is the happiness and joy of people who stand in line for two hours, sometimes in the cold,” he said. “People that are suffering are sometimes some of the most joy-filled people. There’s a lesson in there for all of us.”
Every donation received for the Christmas Bureau will be reported in The Spokesman-Review, though donors can ask to remain anonymous. Daily stories will appear on the front page until Christmas Day. A final story reporting the total amount raised will be published on New Year’s Day.
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