With the economic havoc caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, one might easily assume donations to the Columbus Firemen’s Cheer Fund have dropped dramatically.
But Cheer Fund co-chairman Ben Noblitt said that’s not the case.
“It didn’t hurt us a bit,” Noblitt said. “That’s because we were able to get into online shopping. We were still able to get in a few events throughout the year, folks were still dropping off new toys throughout the year, and there were a lot of people giving us monetary donations.”
If you plan to seek holiday assistance, the Columbus Holiday Helpline is now open not only for help from the Cheer Fund, but also from the Community Center of Hope Angel Tree, Shop With A Cop, Toys for Tots and the Love Chapel Holiday Food Pantry.
The hotline number is 812-375-2216.
Applications will continue to be taken until Dec. 3, with delivery day for the Cheer Fund scheduled for Dec. 18.
Now in its 91st year, the Cheer Fund is considered the oldest charity in Bartholomew County that is still in existence.
Some of the recent fundraising successes include 20 bicycles donated and assembled by workers from Cummins Inc.; $16,500 raised through the Hoosier Egg Fest with Thompson Furniture in June, and a 24-hour board game event held at Hotel Indigo that raised $550.
Prior to this year, Cheer Fund organizers only provided gift certificates to Disc Replay to their older recipients (9 to 12 years old.)
“Older kids are always hard to shop for,” Noblitt said. “They get to the age where they don’t want to play with ‘this’ or they don’t want to play with ‘that’.
So the Cheer Fund is expanding their $10 gift certificates to Columbus Rock Gym, kidscommons, Columbus Skateland, Hamilton Ice Center, YES Cinema, Columbus Bowling Center and Putt Putt Fun Center, as well as Disc Replay. A gift certificate will be placed in the gift box, as well as electronic items such as phone accessories and special window lights.
But the biggest boon in recent years to the Cheer Fund giving has come from online donations arranged with Amazon, Walmart and Target. Last year, online contributions were up to 25% of the donations received by the charity, Noblitt said.
Online shopping allows individuals to go to the website of participating retailers, choose a toy in their price range among a list created for the Cheer Fund, buy one or more items, and have them shipped straight to the Columbus Fire Department’s administrative offices at 11th and Washington streets.
Because COVID-19 remains a threat, organizers are taking precautions this holiday season similar to those of last year. For example, there will be no public boxing nights. Like last year, the packing will be handled mostly by the firefighters.
Boxing nights are extremely popular with many youth groups, and Cheer Fund co-chairman Justin Sims says cancelling them for a second year in a row is “one of our biggest disappointments.”
Another holdover from last year is that no used toys will be accepted. The problem with accepting gently-used toys is that you never know where they come from, Noblitt said.
“Not that anybody has any bad intentions, but it would take us an hour to disinfect all the used toys,” Noblitt said. “On top of that, you have to get them on the shelves and making sure all pieces are there. We kept finding pieces of used toys in our trailer that we didn’t know where they belonged.”
All new toys and gift certificates can be dropped off at any city fire station.
As October comes to an end, more fundraisers for the charity are being booked. For example, the annual chili cook-off that will take place Nov. 5. Like last year, the chili will only be available through drive-thru only at Fire Station #1. Instead of a set admission price, firefighters are requesting a free will donation.
The Columbus Vanguard semi-professional women’s football team challenged the firefighters to a flag football game. It will be Saturday, Nov. 6, starting at 1 p.m. at the Central Middle School football field.
There will also be another 24-hour board game event at Hotel Indigo from Nov. 12-13.
As of now, it appears there won’t be a fundraising wrestling event as there has been in the past. That’s because promoter Jerry Wilson and Hoosier Pro Wrestling both retired during last year’s COVID-19 outbreak.
But there has been talk of possibly resurrecting the wrestling event one last time for the Cheer Fund, Noblitt said.