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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Christmas Bureau resembles the efforts of yesteryear

By Nina Culver The Spokesman-Review

The Christmas Bureau has been a staple of the Spokane community for decades, but it hasn’t always looked the same.

It started in 1945 as a fundraiser to help World War II veteran Cpl. William Schwenk, who had lost his sight, one of his arms below the elbow and most of the use of his remaining hand in the war.

As time went on, the Christmas Bureau collected donations of food and clothing to distribute to those in need. The focus shifted to providing food vouchers and toys for children in the early 1980s. The annual effort is operated by Catholic Charities, Volunteers of America and The Spokesman-Review.

This year’s Bureau, altered by the pandemic, will look a bit like some of those early years. Usually books and toys are stacked on tables at the Spokane County Fairgrounds for parents to choose for their children, but that isn’t possible this year because of the pandemic and restrictions on large gatherings.

Organizers are still putting the finishing touches on a plan to distribute toy vouchers to those who need a toy to give their children on Christmas morning.

Food vouchers were mailed to early applicants in mid-November and more vouchers are being sent continuously as new people apply.

Paul Dorning, who is one of three co-chairs of the Bureau this year, said it reminds him of the way the Bureau operated in the early 1960s. “That was a little before my time,” he said. “That was when my mother was involved in it.”

His mother was a volunteer with the Salvation Army, which was one of the charitable partners of the Christmas Bureau then. When she was a volunteer, it was mostly vouchers that were handed out each Christmas. “They hand wrote the vouchers,” Dorning said.

After his mother stopped volunteering at the Bureau, his wife volunteered there for a few years. “Then I took over about 15 years ago,” he said. “I talked to my mother about it and it sounded interesting. I got excited about it and went down. I fell in love with it, actually.”

In a normal year Dorning helps organize the intake volunteers in addition to serving as a co-chair. Doing intake has always been his favorite part because he gets to meet and talk to recipients, Dorning said. “For me, it’s always been about people,” he said.

Though it’s not possible for him to mingle with recipients this year, Dorning said he’s been impressed at how much effort has been put into salvaging the Christmas Bureau as the pandemic continued and then worsened. “You just get after it and get it fixed,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll bounce back strong next year. There’s no doubt about it.”


Another $15,369.25 in donations came in during the second part of the year before the Christmas Bureau fundraising officially began, bringing the year-to-date total to $32,603.83. The goal this year is to raise $535,000 to pay for the food vouchers distributed to recipients as well as the books and toys purchased by organizers earlier this year.

The Duke and Ruth Fette Trust, of Davenport, Washington, gave a gift of $10,000.

Angela Johnstone, of Spokane, donated $1,000. An anonymous Spokane Valley donor gave $1,000.

Rick Betz made four individual donations via United Way of $569.63, $624.99, $625 and $625.01. An anonymous donor gave $500 via Schwab Charitable.

Joanne Orahood donated $114.62. Ronald Deming, of Spokane, gave $100, as did Vickie Borer, also of Spokane. Cindi and Raland John, of Spokane, contributed $100. “We are very grateful to be able to contribute to the S-R Christmas Fund,” they wrote. “It is such a valuable program for our local community, especially during the holidays and the pandemic. Thank you for all that you do.”

Judith Horton, of Coeur d’Alene, gave two donations of $5 each.

If you go

Apply: Apply online at to receive a grocery store voucher.

Toys: Those who have already applied online and are in need of toys can send an email to Do not put in a second application. Put “Toy Voucher” in the subject line and include your name, address, phone number and three or four sentences about your circumstances. Vouchers will be distributed on a first come, first served basis to those in the most need and it’s likely that not everyone will receive a toy voucher.

How to donate

By mail: Checks may be mailed to The Spokesman-Review Christmas Fund, P.O. Box 516, Spokane, WA 99210.

In person: Bring your donation to the lobby of The Spokesman-Review at 999 W. Riverside Ave. Please mark prominently, CHRISTMAS FUND. If you would like a receipt sent to you, include your mailing address or email address.

Online: Visit and click the PayPal button.

If you’d like us to send you a receipt for your donation, make sure to include your mailing address in PayPal’s comment box. If you’d like a receipt via email, just include a valid email address. In either case, we won’t share your information with anyone or use it for any other reason. And feel free to use the comment box to tell us anything you’d like.


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