Filling the boxes: Cheer Fund welcomes volunteers for boxing nights for first time in two years

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.

The charity’s largest fundraising season is well underway. Organizers were afraid there were so many activities on Nov.4 that patronage at the Firemen’s Chili Cook-off might suffer. But many picked up their meal and took it either home or to the event.

The Chili Cook-off raised around $3,100, Noblitt said. The event has seen an increase in revenue after the firefighters started asking for free will donations, rather than a set price.

“It doesn’t limit how much somebody would like to give,” Noblitt said.

Another long-standing fundraiser is “Kamp Out For Kids”, sponsored by Radio Station WKKG (101.5 FM). Personalities from the radio station agreed to camp out from 10 a.m. on Nov. 3 until 3 p.m. on Nov. 4.

Preliminary estimates indicate the event brought in $2,750 in cash and about 600 new toys, according to White River Broadcasting General Manager Bob Morrison.

When the Bartholomew County Radio Control Fliers was created in 2007, the miniature aircraft enthusiasts decided to adopt the Columbus Firemen’s Cheer Fund as its official charity.

This year, the RC Fliers broke a 15-year tradition by trying something different, club treasurer John Vinson said. Instead of having an exhibition fundraiser, the event became a precision flying contest organized by Rob Weismiller, member of the International Miniature Aerobatic Club (IMAC) and lead aircraft technician for Cummins Inc.

A total of 13 pilots from as far away as Michigan, Kentucky, and Illinois competed in the three-day event, which provided the Cheer Fund with $812, Vinson said.

Several more fundraisers will be announced in the weeks ahead. But Noblitt said one of the most popular events will be the 24-hour Board Game-A-Thon at the Hotel Indigo, 400 Brown St.

There are actually two different 24-hour board game marathons, One begins at 6 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 25 and the second gets underway at the same time on Saturday, Nov. 26. Participants are urged to learn one quick game and give a donation, or stay through the night and continue playing until the next morning.

In the past, this event has been known to bring in up to $4,000 to the Cheer Fund, Noblitt said.