If you want to help the Columbus Fireman’s Cheer Fund this year, the time to step forward is just days away.

Starting Monday, volunteer work sessions will be conducted from 6 to 9 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings within the Doug Otto United Way Center, 1531 13th St.

Work sessions are expected to continue until Dec. 13, which is the Wednesday before gifts are distributed.

While Bartholomew County’s oldest surviving charity makes kids smile, organizers understand it may unintentionally cause a few frowns.

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Every year, there seems to be throngs who long to experience the joy of the Christmas spirit by helping the holiday charity — but wait too late to step forward, former and current Cheer Fund officials say.

“Procrastination is something I think we’re all guilty of,” Cheer Fund co-chairman Jay Smith said.

But the desire to help is genuine, Smith said. Looking after the needs of children fulfills what he calls a primal need among humans to care for those who are innocent and vulnerable.

About 1,100 children are registered to receive toys and other gifts during the holiday season, said Angie Huebel, director of the United Way Volunteer Action Center.

Last year, a total of 1,226 children received holiday cheer through the charity, said Alicia Monroe of Bartholomew County 2-1-1.

While lots of volunteer work lies ahead — from sorting, cleaning and stocking shelves to packaging and delivering — most chores wrap up two weeks before Christmas Day.

Delivery day, which always attracts the most volunteers at any one time, will be the morning of Dec. 16.

That allows what another co-chairman, Jarrad Mullis, calls buffer room to address unexpected circumstances.

In the past, that has included helping several dozen kids scheduled to receive assistance from other organizations that were unable to meet the demand.

At the Doug Otto Center, returning volunteers will see a new warehouse configuration that Smith said is less congested and better organized.

In September, about 60 employees from Faurecia donated the labor needed to build about 20 new mobile shelving units for storing toys. The corporate contribution also included about $3,000 worth of building supplies, said Chris Owens, the third Cheer Fund co-chairman.

Although organizers greatly appreciate their warehouse volunteers, the best way to help the Cheer Fund is making donations.

New and gently used toy donations are now being accepted at the United Way building, or at any Columbus fire station. Check or cash contributions also will be accepted at these locations, or done online through the charity’s website at cheerfund.com.

While making a monetary donation may not provide the same emotional satisfaction as volunteering, gifts of money are crucial because the Cheer Fund relies on them to fill the unforeseen gaps that arise every year, Owens said.

For Owens, Mullis and Smith, this will be their swan song as the Cheer Fund chairmen, the final year of their original commitment that began in 2015.

Until then, one Cheer Fund chairman was selected each year. But since the charity has increasingly become more diverse in operations and planning, having multiple leaders makes the job “less of a daunting task, Smith said.

Two qualified firefighters have expressed interest in serving, but leadership announcements won’t be made until a third co-chair can be secured, he said.

How to help

Starting Monday, Cheer Fund volunteers will sort and pack from 6 to 9 p.m. three days a week — Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays through Dec. 13.

People who wish to volunteer can either go to the Cheer Fund website or Facebook page.

Both will list cellphone numbers that potential volunteers can call to leave a voice message.

Large groups that wish to volunteer should email their request to firemenscheerfund@yahoo.com

If you need help

Families needing assistance can call the Holiday Hotline at 812-375-2216 weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Bartholomew County 2-1-1 serves as a clearinghouse to avoid duplication among the organizations helping families during the holidays. Just dial 211.

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