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

Volunteer found comfort in helping Christmas Bureau

By Nina Culver The Spokesman-Review

The community has always rallied around the Christmas Bureau, donating enough money each year to buy food vouchers for families in need as well as a toy and a book for each child. It is becoming clear that the support remains even in the midst of this turbulent year.

Donations have been tallied for about a week, but already there are encouraging notes from readers who have donated twice already or increased the amount of their annual donation to help. There’s a month to go to attempt to reach the goal of $535,000, but early signs are that people are determined to support the Christmas Bureau.

Connie Brunell is one of the many volunteers who were also determined to support the Christmas Bureau in whatever way they could. She helped process the thousands of online applications requesting help from the Bureau.

“I knew they needed help,” she said. “I just couldn’t say no. It was amazing how they changed gears and got it done.”

Brunell thinks she started volunteering with the Christmas Bureau in 1999 or 2000. She’s done several jobs over the years, but her favorite is doing intake, where she talks to recipients and helps them apply for assistance. “Sometimes you hear some sad stories and some people are happy, but they’re always grateful,” she said.

She’s also worked in the toy room, helping parents select gifts for their children. It can be an emotional experience, Brunell said. “A mother will come in and find exactly what toy her child was asking for and she bursts into tears and you can’t help but cry with her,” she said.

She appreciates how well the Christmas Bureau is organized, but the well-oiled machine had a wrench thrown in it this year in the form of a pandemic. “They don’t have much control over the craziness of this year,” she said.

Brunell enjoyed getting to see some of her fellow volunteers as she processed applications. She said she knew of some who planned to stay home this year because of the pandemic. “Some people do have underlying health issues,” she said. “I’m sure it was heartbreaking for them.”

Though the recipients get a food voucher and toys for their children, Brunell said she and her fellow volunteers benefit as well by getting the chance to help others. “Yes, we help these people, but we get so much more,” she said.

Brunell loves helping out at the Christmas Bureau every year, but this year it helped her in a different way. Her husband, Scott, died in June and two of her beloved Afghan hounds died. “It’s been a tough year,” she said. “He was a very big supporter of the Christmas Bureau.”

Making the drive from her home near Spangle twice a week for several weeks to volunteer helped her get through it, Brunell said. “Everybody is so upbeat and focused on helping others, it really did help cheer me up,” she said.

She’s looking forward to helping out for years to come. “It’s so heartwarming and so much fun,” she said.

DonationsDonations continue to come in at a slow but steady pace as fundraising for the Christmas Bureau nears the end of its first week. Donations will continue to be reported daily through Christmas Day, with a final tally reported on New Year’s Day. New contributions of $11,692 have brought the year to date total to $62,935.83, a little closer to the goal of $535,000.

CPC Building Supply, of Kettle Falls, donated $1,000. Burma and Richard Williams, of Spokane, gave $1,000. “Seeing the second article about the difficulties of the Christmas Bureau in this terrible pandemic, we have decided to give a second donation this year to help keep the tradition alive,” they wrote. “We hope that all who can do so will contribute to fund the program this year to make Christmas a little brighter for those who are in difficult circumstances this holiday season. We will be contributing again next year and hopefully, many years to come. Thanks for all you do at The Spokesman-Review and at Catholic Charities and Volunteers of America!”

Gail and Roberta Keeling, of Otis Orchards, contributed $1,000. “We are sending this check in hopes of helping children and families at this strange and stressful time this holiday season,” they wrote. “We are blessed to share this season with our children and three grandsons, Taylor Merkley, Kolby and Ryan Keeling and our new great-grandson, Camden Ray Merkley.”

Mike and Valerie Sonderen, of Spokane, donated $500. The Floyd family, of Newport, sent $500. Dick and Trudy Raymond, of Spokane, contributed $500 “in memory of our relatives and friends who have gone before us. We thank all the volunteers who help with the fund and pray everyone will be safe. Also, prayers for the recipients who receive help and for our community, our country and the world at this difficult time.”

Janet McNeice, of Spokane, gave $500. An anonymous donor from Hayden, Idaho, sent $500. Drs. Ken and Sharon Cathcart, of Colbert, donated $500. Kathleen Lackie, of Spokane, contributed $500. “Please accept this donation in honor of the staff at the Christmas Bureau,” she wrote. “Their dedication to the annual project was not compromised by COVID-19. Their motto this year should be ‘If there’s a will, there’s a way.’ Sierra, Brigid and staff, you are the best.”

Butch and Barb Slaughter, of Spokane, donated $400, writing “We wish you all a Merry Christmas. We know how frustrating this year must be for you. You need a Christmas miracle? Just watch – Spokane will come through! Good luck and thanks for all you do.”

Joe and Jeanie Hensley, of Spokane, sent $300. “Thank you for all that you do!” they wrote. Gerard Fischer, of Spokane, gave $250, as did William Harsell, also of Spokane.

Dennis and Lynda Sheehan, of Liberty Lake, sent $200. An anonymous Spokane donor gave $200 “in loving memory of Daphne Adams, for whom the Christmas season was her favorite time of the year. She donated to the Christmas Fund for many years, and it is an honor for me to continue the tradition.”

Donald and Diana Storey, of Spokane, donated $200, as did Suzanne Grainger, also of Spokane. Valerie and Michael Adams, of Spokane, gave $200.

Ray and Liz Schatz, of Spokane, donated $157, writing “We give again this year in memory of Karen Schatz Dunning, who would have been 57 this year. We’ve included an additional $100 to help with the changes this crazy 2020 has brought us. Thank you for continuing with this great tradition and for being flexible in these crazy times!”

John and Donna Leaming gave $150. Jean Jalufka, of Spokane, donated $150 in honor of the Loucks family. Keith Gehr, of Spokane, sent $150.

Linda Van Lierop, of Spokane Valley, donated $100. Cathie Wescombe, of Spokane, gave $100, writing “I am gratefully sending this contribution to support the magic that the Christmas Bureau provides – this year, needed more than ever.” Donna and Charles Pierce, of Cheney, sent $100. Phil Schumaker, of Spokane, donated $100, as did Melanie Delcid, also of Spokane.

Jeff and Ellen Carpenter, of Spokane, contributed $100, as did Steven and Susan Anderson, also of Spokane. Mark and Marcy Majeski, of Spokane, gave $100. Bob and Carol Vogeler, of Spokane, sent $100, as did Myrna Shockley, also of Spokane. Steve, Gail and Ben Quaid, of Colbert, donated $100.

Leland and Julie Fish, of Spokane, contributed $100, writing “So sad you are unable to continue with your usual routine. We will be praying for you and your volunteers that your distributing the toys and vouchers will go well. And, thank you for all your hard work.” Donna Isaak, of Spokane Valley, gave $100 in memory of her parents, Emil and Leona Isaak.

Diane Packard, of Spokane, sent $100, as did Bruce and Eddie Thomas, of Spokane Valley. Richard Shute, of Otis Orchards, gave $100 “in honor and memory of my late grandmother, Mary Briggle, who gave to the fund every year.” Jeffrey and Anne Jones, of Spokane, contributed $100. Patricia and Michael Cain donated $100, as did Marian Baran, of Spokane.

Bill and Carol Voogd, of Spokane, sent $100, writing “We believe in miracles? After years of having the privilege of helping at the fairgrounds, we know what it takes to work together to make Christmas happen in our community. Accept our donation in lieu of our time at the fairgrounds. Blessings on the Christmas Bureau!”

Ronald and Linda Schultz, of Spokane, sent $50. Kathryn Cooney, of Spokane, gave $50, writing “Thank you for your efforts to bring Christmas to many people who are in need this year. I’m pleased to offer this donation to honor the legacy of Judy Thies, who gave unlimited energy to the Christmas Bureau and to St. Vincent de Paul during her lifetime.”

The Northwest Treasure Hunters Club sent $50. Beverly Stenson, of Spokane Valley, gave $50. William and Constance Brooker, of Spokane, donated $50. Bill and Mary Stachofsky, of Spokane, gave $30. An anonymous Spokane Valley donor sent $30 in memory of Molly Cheney, Susan Wenzl and Faye Mateer.

Christine Lengele, of Spokane, gave $25. Dan and Debbie Carlson, of Spokane, sent $25. Barbara Bohanek, of Spokane, donated $25.

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.


Email The Spokesman-Review at