Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Catholic presence keeps Spokane’s Christmas Bureau active

Story and photo by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the Dec. 21, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

Karen Orlando coordinates the efforts of Spokane’s Christmas Bureau. (IR photo)

Sixty years ago this month, in the days leading up to Christmas of 1946, a few of Spokane’s social service agencies launched Christmas-time social service activities that would eventually become the Christmas Bureau.

Today, Catholic Charities and the Volunteers of America, with financial support from the Christmas Fund, sponsored by Spokane’s daily newspaper, the Spokesman-Review, open the Christmas Bureau each day from Dec. 7 to Dec. 30, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Sundays excluded. The Bureau distributes free toys, games, books, and vouchers for food good at area supermarkets to area low-income families and individuals.

Msgr. Frank Bach, former Director of Catholic Charities and former coordinator of the Christmas Bureau, still puts in many hours each year as a volunteer and is perhaps the best-informed person when it comes to the history of the Christmas Bureau. “It’s a wonderful organization,” Msgr. Bach said, “and it’s wonderful that Catholic Charities is so active with it and that so many Catholics and others give so many volunteer hours every year.

“Originally, each agency had its own version of what we’re doing now,” he said. “Catholic Charities had one, the Salvation Army had one, and so on. Later, they got together to share a facility, but each agency was still separate, and it resulted in a kind of competitiveness that wasn’t good. Finally, the various agencies decided to unite for one activity, and that became the Christmas Bureau.”

Karen Orlando is now in her fourth year as the year-’round coordinator of the Christmas Bureau. Thirty-two hours a week, her regular title is Special Events and Volunteer Coordinator for Catholic Charities. Eight hours a week, 12 months a year, she wears her Coordinator of the Christmas Bureau hat. In April she scans toy company catalogs and places orders. Toy manufacturers give the Christmas Bureau a significant reduction in price on all its orders and provide free storage until December rolls around.

Many people volunteer to help with the Christmas Bureau – 302 this year – and Orlando guesses that at least half the volunteers are Catholics.

“It’s really impossible to say for sure,” she said, “because we don’t ask that question when people volunteer. It really is a non-denominational project. We have Jewish people who volunteer. We don’t do any recruiting, it’s basically a word-of-mouth thing. But we get so many volunteers that many of them don’t get to work as many hours as they volunteer for. Some people want to work all 12 days, and we can give them three, maybe four days. The Salvation Army is no longer officially involved – they offer many other Christmas-related services – but we still get Salvation Army volunteers.”

Last year the Christmas Bureau served almost 31,000 people. “Every year,” Karen Orlando said, “we’ve been growing, so I anticipate more than 31,000 this year. This truly is a community effort that has grown and been supported by the community over the years.”

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