Offering a joyful assist: Holiday Helpline opens Monday for struggling families in need

Frankie and Allen Smith organized pens and other items for volunteers delivering gift boxes for the Columbus Firemen’s Cheer Fund at the new cheer fund building in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. Mike Wolanin | The Republic

Even with temperatures still in the 70s and 80s, hearts throughout Bartholomew County already are warming for the less fortunate during the chill of the holidays.

The annual United Way of Bartholomew County Holiday Helpline opens Monday for the struggling to register for holiday-related assistance ranging from food baskets to toys to clothes.

Volunteers at the phone line at 812-375-2216 through Dec. 3 register people for the Community Center of Hope Angel Tree, Firemen’s Cheer Fund, Shop with a Cop and the Love Chapel Holiday Food Pantry, Toys For Tots, and the St. Bartholomew Giving Tree.

Plus, staff with two other local programs reaching hundreds of needy young people do their own registration: the Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center Angels of Love and the Salvation Army Angel Tree. But those names are included in the Holiday Helpline database to avoid duplication of services to families, according to organizers.

Diane Doup, community outreach coordinator for the neighborhood center, said registrations for the Angels of Love outreach, which began Oct. 1, are running slightly ahead of previous years. She said that could indicate a greater community need overall. The program, working alongside St. Peter’s Lutheran Church and others, annually provides toys to more than 500 youngsters.

So, far this is looking like a real season of need, according to Doup.

“We have received more applications at this point than we ever have in the past,” Doup said. “So does that lead us to believe that we could end up having record numbers? We might. At this point, we just don’t know.

“And we don’t know if this (increase) is because people are just being proactive early, or because the overall need simply has increased already.”

Doup also noted that more people contacted the neighborhood center to ask about the holiday assistance before the Oct. 1 beginning registration date than ever before.

Ben Noblitt, one of three co-chairs of the local Firemen’s Cheer Fund, mentioned that he’s not quite yet been able to tell if the need will be greater than in previous years. Cheer fund leaders predicted last fall that the number of needy families to be served would be substantially greater than before “because of lost jobs, but our numbers ended up ultimately being about the same as they always are,” he said.

“So we’re hoping that our numbers this year stay down, but we’re planning as if they will be up.”

That means a big push starting now about the possible need on social media and in the local media, he said.

He added that, this time of year, residents begin a fairly heavy cycle of toy donations and the number of toy purchases-turned-local-donations online at Amazon, Target and Wal-mart.

“That has been huge for the people concerned about getting out (because of the pandemic),” Noblitt said.