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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

A day of no donations hampers Christmas Bureau efforts

Carrie Nielson, with her baby Kylee, chooses toys for her children while shopping for toys at the Christmas Bureau Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016 at the Spokane Fair and Expo Center. Raising the $525,000 it takes to pay for the Christmas Bureau is admittedly a big task, but it’s one the local community has been accomplishing for years. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Every year, donations to the Christmas Bureau typically start slowly and build steam as we head toward the big day. But this year, the fund has hit a milestone no one wanted to reach.

Not a single donation came in the mail for Wednesday’s tally. No one brought a donation into The Spokesman-Review’s office. Only a trio of Pay Pal donors kept the fund from reaching a second milestone – a zero-dollar day.

Raising the $525,000 it takes to pay for the Christmas Bureau is admittedly a big task, but it’s one the local community has been accomplishing for years. None of the money is used for overhead. All of it goes to the people who need it – a food voucher for each family and a toy and a book for each child.

Recipients from all walks of life use the Christmas Bureau – people who lost their jobs, single mothers, the working poor, seniors and disabled people living on a fixed income. Over the years, many of them have told their stories to Spokesman-Review reporters, talking about life-altering events that led them to seek help at the bureau and how grateful they are to receive a hand up from the community.

Though many families come to the bureau for toys and books for their children, plenty of adults come for a food voucher and maybe a hat and some gloves if they’re available. Retired carpenter Curt Johnson, of Davenport, Washington, visited the bureau in 2015. His wife had recently lost her job and they were trying to make ends meet on Social Security. He got a $20 food voucher.

“It means a lot,” he told The Spokesman-Review at the time. “I’m not used to that. We’ve always been able to care for ourselves.”

Christy and David Zarbok visited the bureau in 2013 to find presents for their three children after a sudden large increase in their rent left little in the budget for extras. A promotion was on the horizon but hadn’t happened yet.

“We’re really having a hard time,” Christy Zarbok told a reporter. “We’re struggling to stay afloat and (the bureau) makes a difference.”

Melonie Myers stood in line for more than two hours in 2012 so she could get gifts for her three children. She had to quit her job to care for one of her children and her savings were gone, even though it would be months before she could go back to work.

“I feel completely grateful because, without their support, I would have barely anything for Christmas,” Myers said.

For some, the bureau is a temporary helping hand and they may only need it once before they get back on their feet. Others face a longer-term situation and depend on the bureau every year to provide a special Christmas for their families.

There is still plenty of time to make this Christmas as special as it was for previous grateful recipients, but before too long families will be lining up at the Spokane County Interstate Fairgrounds in search of a little holiday cheer.


New donations totaling $330 came in via Pay Pal, raising the year-to-date total to $66,504.04.

Brandi Rilkoff, of Spokane, gave $150. Susan Hamer, of Spokane, contributed $100. Scott Engstrom, of Spokane, donated $80.

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