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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Christmas Bureau deadline for advance voucher applications near; more volunteers sought to help with in-person event

Oct. 29, 2021 Updated Fri., Oct. 29, 2021 at 11:26 a.m.

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 The Spokesman-Review

Thursday is the last day to sign up in advance online to get a food voucher and a toy and a book for each child in the home through the Christmas Bureau. Organizers are also looking for volunteers to help distribute everything to families.

Those who apply ahead of time will be in a separate, faster line when the Christmas Bureau operates at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center Dec. 4-16 (excluding Sundays). Those who do not sign up in advance will have to fill out an application on-site with the help of an intake volunteer.

The Christmas Bureau, which celebrates its 76th anniversary this year, is a collaboration among Catholic Charities, the Volunteers of America and The Spokesman-Review to raise money to provide food, toys and books to families in need. The effort was forced to go online last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic but will be open in person this year.

As of Wednesday, Catholic Charities had received about 4,000 online applications. “It is mostly people who have applied before, but there’s a healthy number of new people,” said volunteer engagement specialist Heidi Meany. “It’s going a lot smoother than last year.”

People can visit www.christmasbureauspokane.org to submit an application for assistance.

The Christmas Bureau will be in a new building at the fairgrounds this year, one that is larger and has better air circulation. But that also means there is an increased need for volunteers, said Christmas Bureau volunteer coordinator Brigid Krause. The old space required 110 people to stock toys, recommend books and help clients with their applications.

“We’ve added 33 new positions a day,” she said. “We expanded into this new building so we could spread out.”

Several of those new volunteers will staff the toy room. The room used to include a large number of each item the Bureau had, but now parents will browse in a room with only one of each item and a volunteer will get the items they want from the back room. There will also be more toy bagging stations set up in an effort to get people through as quickly as possible, Krause said.

This year, the Christmas Bureau will last for 11 days instead of the usual nine, which is also putting a strain on the need for volunteers. “There are two Saturdays and we’ve always struggled to get volunteers on Saturdays,” she said. “We’re pretty short in the toy room and the bagging.”

There are plenty of available volunteer shifts, Meany said. “We would really love help on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays,” she said. “Boy, we could use the hands.”

The Volunteers of America, which handles the book buying and provides volunteers to staff the book tables, is also looking for retired teachers and librarians to volunteer. They usually help parents decide what book would be age appropriate for their child, and having knowledge of both books and children is important, Krause said.

Volunteers are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Both volunteers and recipients must wear masks. Organizers are also following Gov. Jay Inslee’s mandate for large events, which means that recipients who visit the bureau for assistance must either provide proof of vaccination or a negative PCR COVID-19 test in the previous 72 hours. The order applies to those ages 12 and up.

Krause said some regular volunteers have retired for a variety of reasons, but she’s not aware of many who have declined to come back because of the pandemic. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” she said. “People are wanting to be out there. A lot of them are just aging out. It just shows how passionate these people are, because there is risk.”

Anyone interested in becoming a Christmas Bureau volunteer, which requires passing a background check, can apply online at www.christmasbureauspokane.org. Those interested in becoming a book volunteer with the Volunteers of America can contact Krause at brigid.krause@cceasternwa.org.

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