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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Wooden trucks are a hit at the Christmas Bureau

Don Knowlton stands with some of the dozens of wooden truck toys he has built as a “pandemic project” in his Spokane basement and destined for the Christmas Bureau. Volunteers offer their time to build the trucks for children’s gifts.  (The Spokesman-Review)
Don Knowlton stands with some of the dozens of wooden truck toys he has built as a “pandemic project” in his Spokane basement and destined for the Christmas Bureau. Volunteers offer their time to build the trucks for children’s gifts. (The Spokesman-Review)
By Nina Culver The Spokesman-Review

Christmas Bureau volunteer Janet “Pinki” Culbertson spent the summer assuring her “truckers” that yes, the Christmas Bureau still needs handmade wooden toy trucks to hand out to children this year.

Every year for decades Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington, the Volunteers of America and The Spokesman-Review have teamed up to provide a Christmas celebration to families in need through the Christmas Bureau. Each family receives a food voucher and a toy and a book for each child.

For the last several years Culbertson has been building a small army of woodworkers to create wooden toy trucks to be handed out. With usually only a hundred or so available, the trucks were typically handed out to children who stayed in the child care area while their parents shopped for gifts.

Last year, Culbertson put out a plea for more wooden cars and trucks and woodworkers responded. They dropped off wooden cars by the boxful. Some, though talented with woodworking tools, had never made a truck before. But they figured it out.

Culbertson was pleased by the response and hopes to build on it this year. “It went way beyond my expectations,” she said.

Even with the good response, there were only about 600 wooden cars and trucks given away. Last year the Christmas Bureau helped 15,036 children in 7,973 households. “Six hundred doesn’t even begin to make a drop,” she said.

The toy trucks are always a hit, Culbertson said. “A lot of times they love this more than their toy,” she said. “They just gravitate toward them.”

Culbertson said many of the woodworkers take pains to make sure each car is unique. She encourages them to use whatever style they want. Her only request is that they use nontoxic paint if they decide to paint their creations.

“I tell them to be creative, make some sawdust,” she said.

She’s given away dump trucks, small cars, semi-trucks, farm trucks and more. Some have been intricately decorated while others were bare wood, ready to be decorated by their recipient.

People have been eager to help out with the trucks this year, she said. “It’s something for them to do, especially in the pandemic,” she said. “They’re artisans.”

Right now Culbertson has no idea how many toy cars and trucks will be coming her way. She’s received emails promising anywhere from 25 to 200 trucks and she’s sure there are people out there working in their shops that she doesn’t know about. “I’ve got lots of elves,” she said. “I’m hoping there’s a lot of surprises.”

Those interested in contributing some toy trucks to the effort can contact Culbertson via email at eventhorizon620@gmail.com to arrange to drop off their creations at the Spokane County Fairgrounds in mid-November.

The trucks will be included in each toy package until they are gone. “We go until we run out,” she said.

This year Christmas Bureau recipients were asked to apply online by Nov. 6 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Parents requested their top three toy picks for each child and later this month volunteers will arrive at the Spokane County Fairgrounds to prepare gift packages to be picked up in a by-appointment-only drive through in December.

This year, for the first time in a long time, Culbertson won’t be at the fairgrounds. She has health issues that make her vulnerable to COVID, so she’s doing all her work behind the scenes this year. In addition to organizing the wooden toy trucks, she’s also been helping process the online applications.

“I’ll miss it,” she said. “I love the Christmas Bureau. It’s my favorite.”

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