Deadline approaches for holiday help registration

The deadline to register a child to receive gifts through one of the local Christmas charities is rapidly approaching.

Friday, Dec. 3, will be the last day that a parent or guardian can register a dependent for the Columbus Firemen’s Cheer Fund, “Shop With A Cop,” the “Community Center of Hope Angel Tree,” “Toys for Tots” and the “Love Chapel Holiday Food Pantry” through the Holiday Hotline at 812-375-2216.

The hotline is maintained by the United Way of Bartholomew County’s Volunteer Action Center. The agency serves as a clearing house to ensure no one attempts to take advantage

The community’s multiple charitable programs, according to Alicia Monroe, coordinator of the United Way of Bartholomew County’s Volunteer Action Center.

In terms of enrollment numbers, all the Holiday Hotline charities are at about the same place where they were at this time last year, Monroe said.

“I means, there are some programs that are up and some that are down,” Monroe said. “Dec. 3 is when all holiday registrations will end. After that, a waiting list will be started if there are still openings in the program available.”

One program that is down slightly, compared to this same time last year, is the Cheer Fund. Co-chairman Ben Noblitt says that since “Shop With A Cop” provides a more personal touch and allows kids to pick out their own gifts from a large department store, he understands why that program – sponsored by the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89 – fills up first.

On Sunday, Dec. 19, about 50 FOP members are expected to participate that includes Columbus police officers, Bartholomew County Sheriff deputies, Indiana Department of Natural Resources law enforcement, town marshals, jail correctional staff members and Indiana State Police, FOP president Alan Trisler said.

During “Shop With A Cop”, the law enforcement officials are expected to take approximately 150 students on an afternoon shopping spree. For the past two years, each child had a $250 spending limit.

Trisler and Noblitt say neither of their charities have encountered short supplies and extraordinarily high prices that stem from supply-chain issues.

“But when Shop With A Cop fills up, (the Cheer Fund) normally takes care of the rest of the kids that didn’t make it into the program on time,” Noblitt said. “That’s a big reason why our numbers fill up so quickly in December because we get most who are on the waiting list.”

Firefighters began packing Cheer Fund gift boxes during the second week of November, and already have enough boxes prepared to serve almost 400 children. Last year, the total number of children served by the Cheer Fund totaled a little more than 1,100. While totals have been down, Noblitt said he believes it is because other charities have been successfully taking much of the burden off the Cheer Fund.

From the requests that have already been made, the most in-demand toys this year include Little Outrageous Little (LOL) dolls, Nerf guns and Barbie dolls, Noblitt said.

The only regret he expressed is that, with a few exceptions, the Cheer Fund has only allowed firefighters to pack gift boxes.

“When COVID hit last year, we decided not to have open boxing nights,” Noblitt said. “When we were discussing whether they could be held this year, that’s when the booster vaccine shots were coming out and everybody was talking about the virus’ dangerous variants.”

In response, the decision was made to just keep everyone safe and not allow public open boxing for the second consecutive year, he said.

However, Noblitt emphasized it was a decision made with much reluctance.

“We know there are a lot of groups who miss coming in to fill gift boxes, and we miss them,” Noblitt said. “It was always fund to have a bunch of people in there boxing.”

Noblitt said he’s optimistic the Cheer Fund will be able to bring back at least one public boxing night a week next year.

Cheer Fund Deliveries will be held later in December than in the past. Delivery day will get underway at 8 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 18 at 2774 Verhulst St., just north of the Evolution Training Center in the Columbus Municipal Airport area.

One reason why gifts are being distributed only one week before Christmas is that it gives firefighters more time to box up the gifts. A later delivery date also means parents and guardians won’t have to keep gift boxes hidden for an extended period of time, Noblitt said.

Two years ago, the Cheer Fund stopped making a second round of deliveries for those who were not home on the morning that gift boxes were distributed. Instead, a parent or guardian who doesn’t receive the gifts on Dec. 18 will be asked to contact the Cheer Fund headquarters at 812-390-0152, and make an appointment to pick up the boxes.