Cheer Fund returns to welcoming volunteers (who register) for box packing nights

COLUMBUS, Ind. — After a two-year absence, the Columbus Firemens Cheer Fund is bringing back public packing nights with limitations.

“Everybody has been telling us they have missed packing, so we’re opening it up to the public this year,” Cheer Fund co-chairman Ben Noblitt said.

Now in its 92nd year, the Cheer Fund is known as the oldest charity in Bartholomew County that depends solely on public donations for its existence. It is one of several efforts within the Columbus community at Christmas to provide those in need with gifts and holiday cheer.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, sorting presents and packing gift boxes has only been handled by firefighters and their family members the last two years.

But on Nov. 9, organizers invited local residents to their headquarters at 2674 Verhulst St., north of the Evolution Training Center. It was the first time members of the public were allowed to pack gift boxes since the fall of 2019.

“Attendance wasn’t as high as we thought it would be, but we’re still working out kinks in the sign-up process: said Noblitt, who has co-chaired the Cheer Fund along with Cory Hampton and Justin Sims since 2018.

But some energetic music motivated the smaller group to pack 49 boxes in only two hours, Noblitt said.

Upcoming public packing nights will be on Wednesday, Nov. 23 and on Tuesday, Dec. 6. Hours will be from 6 to 8 p.m. both nights.

Individuals and families who want to sign-up for either of those dates will find a registration link on the Columbus Firemens Cheer Fund Facebook page. The number of volunteers or families accepted each night is limited to 20, and walk-in volunteers won’t be accepted, the co-chairman said.

“We had to find a way where it wasn’t just a large group of people coming in unannounced wanting to help,” Noblitt said. “Whenever we’ve done that in the past, we’ve ended up stepping on top of each other.”

A family will be regarded as only one person, but Noblitt said they must work together as a team on one project at a time.

For more on this story, see Wednesday’s Republic.