As the city’s oldest surviving charity has gained popularity over the years, so has its ability to gain support among individuals, organizations and businesses throughout the community.

For example, Dorel Juvenile Group increased its total annual donation to the 86-year-old Columbus Firemen’s Cheer Fund from $5,000 to about $12,000 this year.

The department store Kohl’s also began giving money to the Cheer Fund as a match for volunteer hours provided by their employees, said Cheer Fund co-organizer Jay Smith.

“It’s just incredible,” Smith said.

“There’s so many businesses and organizations that are so generous.”

While expressing his sincere gratitude for corporate giving, it’s the lesser-known examples of generosity made by individuals with limited resources that another co-chairman, Chris Owens, said touches his heart the most.

For example, Cheer Fund organizers put out a single post on the charity’s Facebook page during the last week of November that they needed used gifts appropriate to give to 12-year-olds.

“The next thing you know, all this stuff was piled up at the United Way building,” Owens said. “It looked as if we had just opened a gate and released a flood of toys.”

Or there was the time last summer when Owens woke up on the morning of a big Cheer Fund event — and realized he had forgotten to order enough doughnuts to feed more than 100 people.

Although he immediately called the Kroger store in Columbus and was willing to pay full price, Owens said he still didn’t expect the store’s bakery staff would be able to provide hundreds of doughnuts on just a few hours notice.

“They not only got them made, but the store picked up half the tab and their employees took up a donation to pay the balance — all in just in a few hours,” Owens said.

Despite the high esteem the Cheer Fund enjoys throughout Bartholomew County, there are still times when the charity has to balance ambition with reality.

While there was an unsuccessful effort to obtain expensive video games and high-dollar electronics desired by older children, the Cheer Fund did the next best thing by securing gift cards from Disc Replay in the Northern Village Shopping Center, Owens said.

Over the past nine decades, the Cheer Fund has enjoyed many loyal supporters, but other holiday assistance programs have emerged, too.

But from Owens’ perspective, it doesn’t matter which charity provides donations.

“It’s all about the kids, and letting them know that somebody cares,” Owens said.

“We all work together as a community and operate as a network,” Smith added. “If we get something that isn’t our niche, we can hand it off to another group better able to handle it. We all lean on one another.”

Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.