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Growing need, lagging donations leave Cheer Fund spread thin


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The Columbus Firemen’s Cheer Fund’s mission has changed little since 1930, when the charitable organization began delivering toys to children.

However, the need has grown significantly over that span of eight decades. This year the need is expected to grow even more. But monetary and toy donations needed to meet the need are lagging, Cheer Fund officials said.

Last year, 1,238 children from disadvantaged families received new and gently used toys, books and clothes.

“It’s pretty neat to watch their faces when they see the packages delivered,” Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown said.

Deadline approaching

Columbus Fire Chief Dave Allmon said he wouldn’t be surprised if the number of children who will receive donations will be slightly greater than last year.

So far, 979 children are registered to receive toys, 2013 Cheer Fund co-chairman Mike Wilson said. The deadline to apply is Friday.

Firemen’s fund figures

50

Number of children helped in 1930

1,238

Number of children helped in 2012

215

Number of elderly and disabled who received food baskets last year

$80,000

This year’s fundraising goal

$26,000

Amount raised as of Nov. 27

“I would hope all families in need are applying for assistance,” Allmon said.

As of Wednesday, about $26,000 of this year’s $80,000 goal had been raised through fundraisers and donations, Wilson said. That’s slightly below what has been collected at the same time in recent years, he said.

The amount raised includes more than $7,400 raised for the Cheer Fund through the Mayor’s Motorcycle Ride and the Cummins Employee Motorcycle Show this year.

The annual distribution of toys, books and clothing is set for Dec. 14.

Wilson said he’s confident the goal will be met because donations pick up around Thanksgiving. Allmon attributed the lagging funds to economic circumstances.

“We just came out of a big recession, and people are still trying to get back on their feet,” Allmon said.

Nancy Treesh of Columbus shared a similar opinion but made it a point to attend the Columbus Firemen’s Cheer Fund Chili Cook-off Nov. 15 at FairOaks Mall, an event she has attended the previous 32 years.

“The need is definitely bigger with the economy where it is, and you’ve got to remember the kids first,” Treesh said.

She was among about 160 people who surveyed and sampled chili — at $5 a bowl — from pots lined across three tables in the public court on the west side of the mall.

Another of the event’s patrons, Donna Pattingill of Columbus, agreed that the need for Cheer Fund services has grown.

“There’s a lot more people who aren’t working, and they need help,” Pattingill said. “The Cheer Fund provides that help, and I think that’s important.”

Ginni Greathouse, who attended the chili fundraiser with her husband, Clifford volunteer fireman Ron Greathouse, said plenty of families are experiencing tough economic times.

“It’s something that many people may not want to address; but when there are kids involved, the help should be given,” Ginni Greathouse said.

The Cheer Fund chili fundraising event is a big deal for participating firefighters, too.

“There’s always a competition, and it’s good camaraderie. But what really makes it fun for us is that it’s still all about giving to the kids and to the community,” city firefighter Eric Darlage said.

Mike Kutsko, an administrator who serves directly under Allmon, showed his pride by placing a label in front of his the spicy concoction that stated: “The Commander’s Chili.”

“Deputy Chief Dan Bates and myself have been working on this for two days,” Kutsko said at the cook-off. “He cooked half the stuff, I cooked half the stuff, and we combined them. It’s been simmering now for two days, so I’d say it’ll clean your sinuses out.”

The chili cook-off raised about $2,800 after expenses, Wilson said.

Help from volunteers has transformed Cheer Fund from a firefighters’ charity to a community charity, said Brown and Cheer Fund officials.

Many groups and individuals now handle the sorting, boxing, wrapping and distributing, plus a variety of fundraising events that were once performed exclusively by members of the Columbus Fire Department, organizers said.

Cheer Fund also has built a loyal following simply by being there for children during the bad times, said 2011 Cheer Fund Co-Chairman Bryan Brown.

“We have a lot more people coming through who were touched by the Cheer Fund as children when they got toys through this charity. Now that they are adults and making their own way, they remember the happiness we brought and want to do everything they can to help,” he said.

How you can help

Drop-off locations for new and gently used toys:

  • Doug Otto United Way Center, 1531 13th St., Suite 1100, Columbus
  • Kroger, 3110 N. National Road, Columbus
  • Betty’s Hair In Motion, 1719 Central Ave., Columbus

Toys and good-will contributions can be made at any of the six Columbus fire stations:

  • 1101 Jackson St.
  • 2736 Arnold St.
  • 80 S. Gladstone Ave.
  • 4730 E. 25th St.
  • 100 Goeller Court
  • 1900 W. County Road 450S

Online monetary contributions may be made through the organization’s website at cheerfund.com.

Fundraiser coming up: Police vs. Firefighter Broomball Game, 8:30 to 10 p.m. Dec. 14 at Hamilton Center Ice Arena, 2501 Lincoln Park Drive, Columbus. Both toys and monetary donations will be used by the Cheer Fund and the “Shop With a Cop” program.

For more information on volunteer or donation opportunities, contact Cheer Fund Co-Chairman Mike Wilson at 552-9517.

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