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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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The books are ready to be given away at the upcoming Christmas Bureau

UPDATED: Thu., Dec. 2, 2021

Retired Volunteers of America director Merilee Roloff unpacks boxes of infant and toddler board books Wednesday at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center.  (Nina Culver/The Spokesman-Review)
Retired Volunteers of America director Merilee Roloff unpacks boxes of infant and toddler board books Wednesday at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center. (Nina Culver/The Spokesman-Review)
By Nina Culver The Spokesman-Review

The truck hauling thousands of books for the Christmas Bureau was running a little behind Wednesday morning, leaving volunteers at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center eagerly waiting.

The Christmas Bureau, which opens Saturday, offers food vouchers to families in need as well as a toy and a book for each child. It’s a collaboration between Catholic Charities, Volunteers of America and The Spokesman-Review.

The Volunteers of America handles the book buying and distribution for the Christmas Bureau. The crew of volunteers ready to receive the books Wednesday was led by Merilee Roloff, who was the longtime VOA director before retiring five years ago.

The books being pulled out of storage for the Bureau had been there a while since there was no book distribution during last year’s virtual Bureau. Roloff said it had been so long, she wasn’t sure what was in there. Some donations, such as one from the former Scholastic book warehouse in Spokane, hadn’t ever been unpacked.

“They closed their warehouse during the pandemic,” she said. “They donated 1,000 books to us. We have no idea what they are.”

Since there were thousands of books in storage, Roloff didn’t have to spend a lot of time buying books this year – but she wishes she could have. Browsing book websites and purchasing a variety of books usually takes up a big part of her days.

“I have been bored silly,” she said. “I had to take up knitting.”

When the truck arrived and was swarmed by volunteers, Roloff quickly got to work unpacking board books for infants and toddlers. There was a lot of work to do and little time to do it in. The VOA got some new volunteers this year, but not enough, Roloff said.

“We’re really short-staffed,” she said. “At least half of our regulars aren’t coming because of health concerns.”

Shelley Clough is one of those new volunteers. She was moving boxes and sorting books for ages 4-6. “I’d heard about it and always wanted to do it,” she said of volunteering with the Christmas Bureau. “I’ve just always enjoyed books.”

The retired computer programmer and software engineer has one grown son, but said she remembers well the excitement her son had about books. “I used to do the Scholastic book fairs when he was in elementary school,” she said.

As she sorted through boxes that were taped shut, she was grateful for one thing. “At least they’re marked,” she said of the writing scrawled on the sides of each box or on an attached sticky note. “That’s a good start. We’ll be able to get it organized.”


New donations of $3,450 have brought the year-to-date total to $73,253.10 raised so far. The goal this year, as it has been for the last several years, is $535,000 to pay for food vouchers, toys and books for thousands of families.

Steven Goebel donated $1,500.

John and Jody Beck, of Spokane Valley, donated $500 in honor of Fern and Don Johnston. An anonymous Spokane donor contributed $500.

Nelson and Nancy Heisey, of Spokane, gave $200, as did Valerie and Michael Adams, also of Spokane. Rhonda Krauss, of Spokane, donated $200. “I have never had to wait in line for four hours outside in 15-degree weather,” she wrote. “I started doing this in the 80s.”

Jean Jalufka, of Spokane, gave $150 “in honor of the Loucks family – Tim, Karen, Avery and Carson.”

Kathy Harper, of Spokane, sent $100. Barbara Augusta gave $100.

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