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Ready to bring holiday cheer

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More than 1,300 children will be served by this weekend’s Cheer Fund distribution, with some names still being added to a waiting list. That’s up from 1,238 children served in 2012, a 5 percent increase.

In addition, 214 elderly and disabled residents are expected to receive a food basket Saturday, about the same as last year.

Almost all acceptable donated used toys were boxed up the first week of December in preparation for Saturday morning’s delivery, said Cheer Fund co-chairman Mike Wilson.

This week, volunteers have shopped daily at local retailers in order to have enough toys, clothes and books to meet the higher demand, Wilson said.

With almost 200 volunteers expected to start making deliveries at 7 a.m. Saturday, families and individuals receiving assistance are being urged to remain at home until their presents have been delivered. While the gifts are free, parents or guardians will be required to sign a receipt for the toys, clothing and food they receive, Wilson said.

While demand for Cheer Fund assistance has gone up, the amount of monetary donations continues to fall short from what was collected last year. As of Tuesday, the Cheer Fund had collected only $41,000 of its $80,000 goal, Wilson said.

“Right now, I’m worried that we won’t hit that mark,” Wilson said. “We have enough volunteers. It’s just donations that we need right now.”

Since the Cheer Fund is using monies collected in 2012 for this year’s distribution, a shortfall in donations will not have an immediate impact on this year’s program, Wilson said. However, a significant drop in contributions will have an adverse effect on preparations for next year’s program and the amount of assistance provided in late 2014, Wilson said.

Monetary pledges will be accepted through the end of the year, Wilson said.

For the second consecutive year, the Cheer Fund is operating out of a 10,000-square-foot warehouse within the Doug Otto United Way Center at 1531 13th St. The established route for drivers to approach the center will be the same as it was last year, Wilson said.

In past years, several volunteer drivers began lining up along a designated route leading to the distribution center more than an hour before workers begin loading vehicles. While Wilson said there’s no reason why drivers should arrive earlier than 7 a.m., he also advised drivers not to wait until midmorning to begin their deliveries.

“Things can wrap up here pretty fast, so if they wait until 10:30 to get here, it might be too late,” Wilson said. “The earlier, the better.”

Since the facility has only one overhead door, volunteers will have to enter and exit the same way Saturday morning, with groups of vehicles being allowed inside for loading.

Volunteers will be required to immediately shut off their engines during loading to reduce exhaust fumes in the warehouse.

Beside being a veteran Columbus radio personality, John Foster is a 14-year veteran Cheer Fund volunteer delivery man.

The White River Broadcasting administrator and morning-show host began delivering boxes of holiday gifts with his oldest grandson, Logan, who was 5 at the time. Logan now is a college freshman.

“Sometimes, you begin to think things are so bad and jagged in this world, but then you see all these people lining up in the predawn hours to deliver gifts,” Foster said. “The Cheer Fund renews my faith in human nature and in the true Christmas spirit.”

When Foster delivers gifts Saturday, he will be accompanied by granddaughter Delaney, 12, and grandson Keaton, 8.

“They will come away from it with a better grasp of

giving to those less fortunate.” Foster said. “But it’s also a unique and special grandpa-and-grandchild time for us. Part of the tradition is going out for breakfast together after the deliveries.”

Registration for assistance concluded Friday. The process is overseen annually by First Call For Help — United Way 211, which monitors the applications to prevent duplication of services and for eligibility requirements.

Considered Bartholomew County’s oldest active charity, the Cheer Fund was founded in 1930, the year after the beginning of the Great Depression.

The number of children receiving assistance this month is 26 times higher than the original 50 children who were helped during the initial distribution 83 years ago.

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