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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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It’s the most charitable time of the year: What to know as the Christmas Bureau returns to Spokane

Lillian Joe, center, leaves the toy room with an armload of toys for her family in 2019 at the Christmas Bureau at the Spokane Fair and Expo Center. After a year online because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the bureau is returning to in-person service in 2021.  (JESSE TINSLEY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Lillian Joe, center, leaves the toy room with an armload of toys for her family in 2019 at the Christmas Bureau at the Spokane Fair and Expo Center. After a year online because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the bureau is returning to in-person service in 2021. (JESSE TINSLEY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

Now that the Thanksgiving leftovers are in the refrigerator, it’s time once again to talk about the Christmas Bureau, a collaborative effort of The Spokesman-Review, Catholic Charities and Volunteers of America to provide Christmas food and gifts to families in need.

The annual effort is in its 76th year and organizers are hoping for something approaching normal after last year’s Bureau had to be scrapped due to the COVID-19 pandemic and turned into a virtual event with mailed food and toy vouchers. This year, the Christmas Bureau will be back at the Spokane County Interstate Fairgrounds and allow parents to pick out a toy and a book for each child.

The fundraising goal this year is $535,000, the same as it has been for the past several years. It’s usually enough to provide food vouchers, books and toys for more than 8,000 families. Last year’s Christmas Bureau broke records, raising $734,383.40. Organizers have pledged to use the excess to replace a book sponsor who used to donate $25,000 every year to purchase books for thousands of children.

Catholic Charities CEO Rob McCann said this year has been tough for many who are still struggling to make ends meet. “We think the need will be the same, if not more,” he said.

The Spokesman-Review will process the donations and keep a running tally of the amount raised. The fundraising progress, including the names of donors, will be reported in newspaper stories that will run daily through Christmas. A final story reporting the total collected will be printed on Jan. 1.

The Bureau will be open Dec. 4-16, excluding Sundays, from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Fairgrounds. This year it will be in a different building, the large building directly in front of the main gate. Parking is free and the fairgrounds are on an STA bus route.

The application process is a hybrid model, with 5,200 applications submitted online so far, Christmas Bureau Coordinator Sierra Heinen said. Applications will still be accepted on site during the Bureau, but those who applied in advance will line up separately.

Heinen said she thinks those who applied online will account for about half of the recipient families. “We’re really happy with that number,” she said.

Of those who have applied so far, about 1,200 are adults without children in the home. Adult recipients receive only a grocery store voucher, which will be mailed to them so they do not have to come to the Fairgrounds, Heinen said. The vouchers should arrive in the mail before Dec. 10 and can be used at local Fred Meyer, Yoke’s, Rosauers, Safeway, Albertsons or Grocery Outlet stores.

The online application was supposed to close on Nov. 4, but it is still available at www.christmasbureauspokane.org. It will remain open until Dec. 12. “We’re leaving it open to make things a little easier,” Heinen said.

Those who plan to go to the fairgrounds should limit the size of the group because there may be capacity restrictions. There will not be a child care area this year.

The Christmas Bureau is required to follow Governor Jay Inslee’s mask and COVID vaccination mandate for large public events. All those who visit the Bureau must wear a mask and provide proof of vaccination or proof of a negative COVID PCR test, not a home test, taken in the previous 72 hours.

Heinen said people who can’t meet those requirements can designate a vaccinated or tested family member or friend to come to the fairgrounds to pick up their items. Those who applied online before Nov. 4 can also send an email to christmas.bureau@cceasternwa.org and request that their food voucher be mailed to them. “We have a few options in place for those people,” she said.

McCann said that, in that sense, the Christmas Bureau is no different than a sporting event or concert. “That’s the way things are for everyone,” he said.

McCann said everyone is looking forward to being back at the fairgrounds. “It’s good to be back this year,” he said. “The volunteers are looking forward to this. They’re more passionate than ever because they missed last year.”

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