Light snow a week ago brought a promise to children throughout Bartholomew County that Santa Claus would soon be here.

In fact, Kamryn Broughton has talked about little else since then, said Paul and Leisha Turnbull, the boy’s great-grandparents and guardians.

So when Santa pulled up to the 3-year-old’s Chestnut Street home Saturday in a 1937 Stutz fire truck, Kamryn was bursting with excitement as he rushed to give the first of several hugs to St. Nick.

“He’s far more excited about Santa than the toys,” Leisha Turnbull said.

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In contrast, slightly younger children might find the red-suited guy with the naughty/nice list a bit intimidating.

At first, Brynley Poff, the 2-year-old daughter of Logan Poff, shied away after Santa brought a gift box into her Union Street home.

But it didn’t take long before the toddler’s eyes began to twinkle as she cooed with satisfaction over nearly a dozen toys inside the box.

Kamryn and Brynley were the first of nearly 1,300 children — about 100 more than last year — to receive gift boxes from the 87-year-old Columbus Firemen’s Cheer Fund.

Based on previous years, up to 200 additional kids might be helped by the organization in the final week before Christmas, including those whose parents missed the deadline — or who were signed up to be served by another group that fell short on resources.

So it’s likely the city’s oldest charity will well exceed its five-year average of helping 1,309 kids annually, said Alicia Monroe of Bartholomew County 2-1-1.

Besides the Cheer Fund, other programs watched over by Monroe’s agency to prevent duplication of resources include:

Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center’s Angels of Love campaign.

The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program.

The Fraternal Order of Police Shop With A Cop program, which will take kids shopping today.

Individual programs sponsored by organizations such as the Elks Club, St. Bartholomew Catholic Church and the Community Center of Hope.

When all programs are considered, assistance will be going to nearly 3,100 children residing in about 2,000 Bartholomew County households this month, Monroe said. That’s up from 1,883 households last year.

Research into the causes for the increase in assistance requests won’t begin until after the first of the year, Monroe said. However, a number of community leaders suspect much of it may be connected to the ongoing opioid crisis.

Enthusiastic volunteers

Whether numbers are up or down, the degree of enthusiasm and joy found inside the Cheer Fund headquarters at the Doug Otto United Way Center always is high on delivery day.

More than 50 volunteers, about 10 more than last year, manned seven loading stations Saturday morning to ensure the dozens of volunteer drivers were properly loaded and informed of their destinations.

“I like seeing the excitement the drivers have, as well as the little kids who are helping them,” said loading volunteer Gaby Heredia, a freshman at Columbus East High School.

Arriving four hours before the deliveries began, Jeff and Chanda Tobias have been first in line among the volunteer drivers for seven consecutive years. However, the couple will be moving to Tennessee next year.

“So I’ll be releasing the title of first in line,” Tobias wrote at 4 a.m. Saturday morning on his Facebook page. “I say that with a tear in my eye. God bless you one and all.”

Leadership change

Over the past nine decades, the Cheer Fund has experienced man changes as new leaders with fresh ideas have stepped forward.

For outgoing co-chairmen Chris Owens, Jay Smith and Jarrad Mullis, delivery day brought mixed emotions as all three completed their three-year leadership run.

“I didn’t think the end would ever get here, but now that it has, it kind of leaves a hole,” Owens said.

Despite the immensity of the role, it becomes a part of your life, he said.

“It’s bittersweet,” said Smith, who plans to continue as a board member and remain active.

“It’s going to be nice to have time with our families, but we’re going to miss it,” Mullis said.

The outgoing co-chairmen are passing the leadership torch to firefighters Ben Noblitt, Cory Hampton and Justin Sims, who have accepted three-year terms.

Cheer Fund deliveries by the numbers

Number of children receiving assistance through the Columbus Firemen’s Cheer Fund over the past five years.

2017: *1,297

2016: 1,226

2015: 1,222

2014: 1,503

2013: 1,357

*This year’s told is expected to rise over the next eight days.

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