Time for cheer: Local holiday fundraising heats up with Chili Cookoff on Friday

If you have a child in need of holiday gift assistance, now is the time to sign up.

The United Way of Bartholomew County’s Holiday Helpline is now registering families and children for the following programs: Columbus Firemen’s Cheer Fund; Community Center of Hope Angel Tree; St. Bartholomew Giving Tree; Shop with a Cop; and Toys for Tots.

Because all children may register for one gift program only, United Way representatives work to match your child’s age and needs with the most suitable program. Families can contact the helpline Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 812-375-2216. Those who speak Spanish can call SuCasa Indiana at 812-375-9370.

The deadline to sign up for assistance is Friday, Dec. 9. Gifts and holiday cheer will be delivered on Saturday, Dec. 17, beginning at 8 a.m.

A new development involving Love Chapel is that individuals and families are no longer required to register for the holiday food visit. Participants can pick up their holiday basked during their regular pantry visit after Thanksgiving through the Christmas holiday.

Chili Cook-off

Now in its 92nd year, the Cheer Fund is considered the oldest continuing charity in Bartholomew County. While the nonprofit raises money throughout this year, this is the season when the Cheer Fund hosts their most visible fundraisers as local residents begin to think about the upcoming holiday season.

The Cheer Fund’s annual signature event will be the Chili Cook-Off on Friday, Nov. 4. Nine different batches of chili created by different cooks (eight of whom are firefighters) range from mild to very spicy, Cheer Fund co-chairman Ben Noblitt said.

The chili suppers will be served out of Columbus Fire Station #1 at 1101 Jackson St. from 5 p.m. until either 8 p.m. or until all the chili is gone. In exchange for the meal, the Cheer Fund is asking for freewill offerings by either cash or check.

In order to alleviate potential traffic congestion, patrons will be asked to approach the station by turning west off Washington Street on to 15th Street, then continuing two blocks before making a left turn on to Jackson Street. After attendees pick up their chili, they will be asked to exit onto 11th Street.

Due to lingering concerns about COVID-19, the suppers will again be available for take-out only this year, Noblitt said.

Prior to the arrival of the virus in early 2020, the public would vote on their favorite chili and the winner would receive a trophy passed from fire station to fire station each year. But because there’s no sit-down service, the judging will be done for the second year in a row by The Columbus Vanguard women’s football team that has done considerable charity work on behalf of the Cheer Fund.

Cheer Fund volunteers

Health concerns are also the reason why the Cheer Fund will continue to accept donations of only new toys rather than used toys in good condition. In fact, the charity is considering doing away with accepting used toys permanently, Noblitt said.

But one aspect popular with many youth groups is returning after a two-year absence. The firefighters will be allowing a limited number of clubs and groups into their headquarters at 2675 Verhulst St. a few evenings a week to sort toys and pack gift boxes.

Representatives of these groups should keep in mind there aren’t many open nights left and volunteers are being accepted on a first-come, first-served basis, Noblitt said. Interested groups should email [email protected] to offer their assistance at their earliest convenience.

While the Cheer Fund distributed gift boxes to more than 900 children last year, organizers anticipate that inflation may raise their numbers this year. But donations have significantly increased in recent years through online donations arranged with Amazon, Walmart and Target, Noblitt said.

Those who wish to contribute can 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.

All of these events and donations will culminate in the Cheer Fund’s annual delivery day that will begin at 8 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 17. The value of the gift box given to each child is about $150, but because the charity buys in such high volume from different retailers, the actual amount the organization spends per box dropped to less than $100 last year, Noblitt said.

More fundraisers will be announced in the weeks to come to benefit the Cheer Fund. Events still in the planning stage include a second touch football game with the Vanguard team that attracted a large crowd last year. A pickleball tournament and a picture with Santa event are also being considered, but Noblitt said he’s not sure at this time whether those activities will be held this year or in 2023.

Meanwhile, the United Way still needs help with registering families and children in need. Those who may be interested will work two-hour shifts and can volunteer as much or as little they would like. If interested, visit the United Way’s volunteer site online at uwbarthco.galaxydigital.com, or go to uwbarthco.org and clicking on ‘volunteer.”

For more information, email Alicia Monroe at [email protected] or call 812-376-0011.

IF YOU GO

Nine varieties of chili will be available during the Columbus Firemen’s Cheer Fund’s Chili Cook-Off on Friday, Nov. 4.

The suppers will be served out of Columbus Fire Station #1 at 1101 Jackson St. from 5 p.m. until either 8 p.m. or until all the chili is gone. A free will monetary offering by either cash or check is being requested.

Patrons will be asked to approach the station by turning west off Washington St. on to 15th Street. and continuing two blocks before making a left hand turn onto Jackson Street.

After each person picks up their chili, they will be directed to exit west onto 11th Street.