A lot of focus is on the toys handed out to each child at the Christmas Bureau every year, but an equal amount of care and dedication goes into buying and distributing the books that also go to each child.
The Volunteers of America, which partners with Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington and The Spokesman-Review to run the Bureau every year, is in charge of the book buying. It’s a process that runs year-round.
“Our buyers actually start the second Christmas Bureau is over,” VOA CEO Fawn Schott said. “They’ve been filling the storage units with books since January.”
In a typical year, books cover a row of tables inside a building at the Spokane County Fairgrounds, staffed by knowledgeable volunteers who help parents select the right book for their child.
“That’s one of the neatest things about the Christmas Bureau,” Schott said. “They ask questions. What is your child like? What are they interested in? They work really hard to find something every child will love.”
Many of the book volunteers are retired teachers or librarians. Others simply love books.
“We have the most incredibly dedicated volunteers,” Schott said. “Many of those volunteers have been with us for 20 years and absolutely love literacy.”
When it seemed volunteers might still organize a drive-thru to allow parents to pick up Bureau toys for their children, the decision was made to not hand out books. There is too wide of a selection to make an online catalog feasible. Even if it were, the customization made possible by the volunteers would have been impossible, Schott said.
In response to the worsening pandemic, the decision was made earlier this month to cancel plans to distribute toys using a drive-thru system and switch to mailing vouchers parents can use to purchase toys. Because the toy vouchers weren’t planned for or funded, there likely won’t be enough vouchers to give to every family.
That knowledge has had a strong impact on the volunteers, Schott said.
“Our volunteers were heartbroken for all of the families that may not have a Christmas,” she said. “They know how much the community relies on the Christmas Bureau to be that bright light.”
But the volunteers are also well aware of the dangers of trying to operate the Bureau during a pandemic. Some regular volunteers already had reached out to say they couldn’t come this year, Schott said.
“They’re also very nervous about COVID and their health,” she said.
For a while, it appeared the Bureau might still happen.
“We had a lot of new volunteers who reached out through our website and said, ‘How can we help?’ ” Schott said. “That was really encouraging as well.”
The books purchased for this year’s Bureau will sit in storage until next year, when officials hope the Bureau will go back to business as usual.
Until then, donations are needed to pay for grocery store vouchers and the books and toys ordered this year. The goal this year is to raise $535,000, the same as it’s been for the past several years. The community has rallied to meet or exceed the annual fundraising goal in each of the past 15 years.
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