Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
As needs expand, so does the scope of the Christmas Bureau
Story and photos by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff
(From the Dec. 18, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)
The Christmas Bureau is Spokane’s annual program to help low-income families have food and toys for their children for Christmas. Over the years, the project has expanded into a huge operation.
The Bureau is set up in one of the agriculture buildings at the Spokane County fairgrounds which provides ample (and heated) room for people to work, for people to wait and for the thousands of gifts that are stacked to the ceiling. Plenty of parking is available.
Sixteen computers streamline the application process, eliminating long waits for people seeking help.
The space isn’t the only impressive aspect of the Christmas Bureau. The statistics also help tell the story of the profound need and profound generosity of the greater Spokane community.
In 1955 $3,623 was collected from over 700 donors. Last year, donations totaled $505,033.71.
In 1955 the money was used in a variety of ways, chiefly to provide food to the needy. Last year 32,127 people in 9,603 families received assistance through the Bureau.
Because the scope of the Christmas Bureau has expanded so much, Karen Orlando was hired this year as the Bureau’s Volunteer Coordinator.
Since September 2002 Orlando has served as Special Events Director in the Development Office of Catholic Charities in Spokane.
Orlando will work an extra eight hours per week, switching over to full-time Bureau work from November through January.
Among her responsibilities will be keeping track of variouis elements that make up the Bureau – for instance, background checks on Bureau volunteers.
She spent most of the the last month at the fairgrounds, assisting chairman Bruce Butler, a volunteer, with whatever was needed, including coordination of the nearly 250 volunteers.
As Catholic Charities’ director Donna Hanson explained, “It’s a huge, year-round job.”
Nancy Gillespie has been volunteering with the Christmas Bureau for “15 or 20 years.” (IR photo)
The 2003 Christmas Bureau opened Dec. 8 and will close Friday, Dec. 19. In those two weeks, the Bureau expected to help approximately 9,600 families.
The Bureau’s four sponsoring agencies include Catholic Charities, Salvation Army, Volunteers of America and Second Harvest Food Bank. The Spokesman-Review, Spokane’s daily newspaper, also is a major supporter through the funds it raises for the operation. The paper’s support also includes donated computers and assistance acquiring use of the fairgrounds space.
Each agency provides a different service, but all draw on their resources for volunteers, the backbone of the Bureau’s operation. Volunteers come from all over the area; some even spend their vacation time helping out.
Don Kelly is a member of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes and is president of the Spokane Serra Club, which encourages vocations to the priesthood and Religious life. Kelly has been a Christmas Bureau volunteer for five years now. He helps with inventory control, keeping track of which toys are popular and which are not. He’s glad to help, and will continue “as long as they’ll have me.” He not only enjoys the work; he enjoys the company of the other volunteers. “They’re wonderful people,” he said, “the greatest people you’ll meet.”
In the volunteer orientation, Donna Hanson summed up the Christmas Bureau’s motivation: “In reaching out to others, it is we who are transformed. It’s a great Christmas gift to give yourself.
“(The Bureau) is a unique community experience that stands of the shoulders of all those who went before us.
“The people we are privileged to serve may not remember the gifts, but they will never forget how they were treated while they were here.”
The volunteers take that message to heart. They are glad to serve and they are united in one goal: to make Christmas brighter for families who might not have one otherwise.