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With deadline approaching, Christmas Bureau says fewer people applying for help

Handmade wooden trucks wait to be selected by clients of the Christmas Bureau in the toy room on the last day of the annual giveaway last year.  (JESSE TINSLEY)
Handmade wooden trucks wait to be selected by clients of the Christmas Bureau in the toy room on the last day of the annual giveaway last year. (JESSE TINSLEY)
By Nina Culver The Spokesman-Review

Not many people are making plans for Christmas in October, which worries Christmas Bureau organizers.

Last year, Catholic Charities, the Volunteers of America and The Spokesman-Review teamed up to offer food vouchers, toys and books to nearly 8,000 families in need. But this year, applications for this year’s virtual version of the Christmas Bureau have only topped 3,300.

“We only have two weeks left for the application to be open,” Christmas Bureau coordinator Sierra Heinen said. “It slowed down.”

Usually, Christmas Bureau recipients visit the Spokane County Fairgrounds during a two-week period in December where they apply for assistance and select toys for their children. But this year, toys and books will be distributed in a drive -thru that will be by appointment only.

The deadline for the online applications to be received is Nov. 6. Catholic Charities sent post cards to all of last year’s recipients announcing the changes and also sent an email to those who provided an email address.

“The trouble was, last year we only collected emails for 2,500 out of 8,000,” she said.

Catholic Charities is putting on a final push to spread the word to all those who need assistance. Heinen said she’s reached out to community partners to ask them to tell their clients about the virtual Christmas Bureau.

“It’s a call to action,” Heinen said. “Help us help the community.”

There’s also a Christmas Bureau Facebook page that is updated daily. Heinen said a flyer was recently distributed to all parents with students in Spokane Public Schools.

Any organization or business interested in obtaining a flyer about the Christmas Bureau to hand out to their clients can send an email to to request one.

The issue is that many organizations are providing virtual services themselves, Heinen said. “This year it’s kind of hard,” she said. “The communication lines are so different.”

Families and single people can apply for assistance by visiting Applicants will not be required to provide proof of income, but must provide proof of residency and proof of the number of children in the home. A service provider verification form, which allows a school or daycare to verify the children in the home, is also available online.

Those who do not have access to the internet can call Catholic Charities at (509) 358-4250 to get assistance filling out the application over the phone.

Each family receives a grocery store voucher ranging from $15 to $30, depending on family size. Each child will receive a toy and a book. Parents will be asked to look through an online toy catalogue and pick their top three toy choices for each child. Single adults are also eligible for assistance and will receive a $15 food voucher.

The food vouchers will be mailed the week of Nov. 16. Families will also receive a letter giving them a date and time in December to come to the Spokane County Fairgrounds to pick up their toys and books.

The application deadline is Nov. 6 to allow volunteers time to sort and package the toys and gifts into gift boxes.

Beginning the day after Thanksgiving, The Spokesman-Review will begin collecting donations from the community to pay for the annual effort.

The goal is to collect $535,000.

Last year, when the goal was also $535,000 generous donors from Eastern Washington and North Idaho donated $557,994.12.

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