Be prepared for some changes Saturday morning when the Columbus Firemen’s Cheer Fund’s distribution of gifts to about 1,300 children gets underway.

One new development expected to generate excitement is a social media challenge that has surfaced among volunteers, Cheer Fund co-chairman Chris Owens said.

A number of drivers will be competing with each other to see who can come up with the most elaborate lights and decorations for their vehicles, he said.

“That’s all creating a lot of excitement among the firefighters,” Owens said. “We’re sort of exhausted at this point, and we need the energy from the people.”

Story continues below gallery

One other change will allow drivers, assistants and receiving families with young children to get a little extra sleep this year.

Deliveries originating at the Doug Otto United Way Center, 1531 13th St., will begin at 8 a.m. — one hour later than recent years, Owens said.

By delaying the start, organizers are alleviating scheduling problems at city firehouses resulting from shift changes, Owens said.

As in previous years, the line of delivery vehicles will be facing south along Cottage Ave., beginning at 12th Street. The line will extend up to 13th Street and continue in front of the United Way building, Owens said.

But once inside, volunteer drivers will run through a new warehouse configuration that co-chairman Jay Smith describes as less congested and better organized.

The new configuration was made possible after employees from Faurecia built about 20 new mobile shelving units for storing toys, Smith said.

Owens, Smith and a third co-chairman, Jarrad Mullis, will be able to take a well-deserved break from their volunteer duties after Saturday.

The Cheer Fund Board of Directors has approved three new co-chairmen to succeed them.

Ben Noblitt, firefighter since 2011.

Cory Hampton, firefighter since 2014.

Justin Sims, firefighter since 2014.

All three of the new chairmen have served on the board, and will accept the joint three-year leadership positions through December 2020.

It was three years ago that the Cheer Fund decided to have three different firefighters share the chairmanship after the charity became more diverse in operations and planning.

The last single chairman was firefighter Bryan Bailey, who served four consecutive years in the leadership position before stepping down at the end of 2014.

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