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

Christmas Bureau numbers expected to climb this year

Story and photos by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the Dec. 17, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)

Cathedral parishioner Don Kelly (left) and Msgr. Frank Bach, a retired priest of the diocese, have been involved with the Christmas Bureau for many years. (IR photo)

For 65 years, Spokane’s Christmas Bureau, sponsored by Catholic Charities and Volunteers of America, and supported by donations from the community to the Christmas fund organized by Spokane’s daily newspaper, has helped countless families and individuals to enjoy a little more of the Christmas spirit and have a few more groceries for a Christmas dinner than they would have otherwise. Children received toys for Christmas they wouldn’t have were it not for the Christmas Bureau, and more than 300 volunteers from Spokane and surrounding communities have a chance to make giving a part of their Christmas in ways that transcend their own immediate families.

Monday, Dec. 7, under clear, sunny skies, the temperatures stayed bitingly cold all day. Trucks pulled up, one after another, and backed into the loading area of a huge building at the Spokane Fair & Expo Center. Volunteers, including men currently staying at the House of Charities in downtown Spokane, worked tirelessly to unload toys, books, games, and recreational equipment such as sleds and snowboards, donated by manufacturers or sold to the Christmas Bureau at a very significant discount. Christmas Bureau co-chairs Yvonne Shulman of Catholic Charities and Father Kenny St. Hilaire, parochial vicar at Spokane’s St. Francis Xavier and St. Patrick parishes, pitched in to help wherever there was a need.

Before noon, Father St. Hilaire returned to one of his parishes, only to return the next morning.

“This is all very new to me still,” he said, “but I’m really excited to see how it all unfolds. I’m very grateful to all the volunteers who make it all happen. It’s the time of year when we’re all reflecting on all the blessings that God gives to us, and we start thinking about sharing that with others and giving back. This is a tremendous event, and I’m eager to see and meet all the people who will be coming through.”

Msgr. Frank Bach, a retired priest of the diocese and a veteran of many years in various roles with the Christmas Bureau, is the official Christmas Bureau runner, or “go-fer.” He replenishes coffee supplies and, on this first day, dashed off to pick up pizzas for volunteers to enjoy for lunch.

Yvonne Shulman is co-chair, with Father Kenny St. Hilaire, of this year’s Christmas Bureau. (IR photo)

Theresa Dryden, of Catholic Charities, is serving her third year as director of the Christmas Bureau. Just as last year’s Christmas Bureau broke records set in 2007, so this year Theresa Dryden expects 2009 to break the 2008 records.

“I’m expecting a big number,” she said. “We served almost 31,000 people last year, and this year we’re expecting 34,000. We’re prepared with toys and everything to meet the need. We plan to give away all 14,000 food vouchers.” Vouchers are good at most area supermarkets, ranging in value from $18 for an individual to $40 for a family of five, she said.

The recession has had its impact on donations. Scholastic Books, which in previous years donated cases and cases of books outright, was forced to sell books this year because of economic downturns. That meant $25,000 out of the Bureau’s budget this year. “We thought books were important enough to do that,” said Dryden. Even so, Scholastic was unable to sell the Bureau books for ages 14 and up this year, she said.

The Christmas Bureau is open this year from 10 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 9 through Saturday, Dec. 12, and is closed on Sunday, Dec. 13. Reopening on Monday, Dec. 13, it will remain open again through Sat., Dec. 19.

Many volunteers return to help out with the Christmas Bureau year after year. Don Kelly, a parishioner from the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes and former Bureau chairman, has been volunteering for “at least 10 years,” he said.

Most volunteers, like Kelly, are simply individuals who help out. This year’s volunteer force includes groups from Spokane’s Gonzaga Prep, and Lewis and Clark High School and Rogers high schools. Avista Utilities allows its employees to use work time to volunteer at the Christmas Bureau. “We have 30 Avista volunteers this year,” said Dryden, “more than ever before.”

Other businesses contribute in indirect but important ways. Spokane’s Arby’s Restaurants donated lunches for volunteers for each day that the Christmas Bureau is open, plus the first day when trucks were unloaded and shelves stocked. The second day of preparation, Pizza Pipeline gave the Christmas Bureau a 50 percent discount on pizzas for volunteers’ lunches. “That’s a lot,” Dryden said. “We’ll have probably 160 volunteers here for lunch that day.”

One volunteer, who preferred to remain anonymous, summed up the spirit of the Christmas Bureau: “This is just the best thing happening in this area during the whole Christmas season. I’ve volunteered for five years now, and there was a time when I needed the help of the Christmas Bureau myself, so I know how much good is done here. It’s great, just really wonderful. This is something Spokane can totally be proud of.”

Volunteers this year include this group from Rogers High School in Spokane. (IR photo)

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