A significant policy change for the Columbus Firemen’s Cheer Fund could put smiles on the faces of some Bartholomew County teenagers.
The Cheer Fund’s board of directors has approved raising the age limit for children receiving assistance to 18, if the recipient is still in high school.
As of Nov. 28, the five holiday charities that register recipients through the Holiday Helpline each had about 100 more recipients than the same time last year, Volunteer Action Center director Alicia Monroe said.
They are: Cheer Fund, Community Center of Hope Angel Tree, Shop With A Cop, St. Bartholomew Giving Tree and Toys for Tots. Most of those charities are also serving teens, Monroe said.
While accepting older children may be a factor, she said inflation is the main cause of the dramatic increase in families requesting assistance this year.
“If you look at Love Chapel, they are seeing more people than ever, including folks that have never asked for food before,” Monroe said.” Maybe people were doing OK with food, but now, it’s Christmas time. I think people are having to choose what they are going to spend their dollars on.”
In the past, a number of holiday charities would split the children they serve by age, Monroe said. But financial resources for purchasing gifts for teens dried up last year before the registration period ended, she said.
Monroe said that’s when she turned to the Cheer Fund to find out if they could accept teens this year.
“They had to turn some folks away,” Cheer Fund co-chairman Ben Noblitt said. “We thought that we’ve got such a big community backing that we might as well take on the kids that can’t get into another group. We want them to know they are still cared about.”
In terms of holiday giving, Monroe feels a number of people tend to forget about teens.
“This is one of the most vulnerable times in their lives,” Monroe said. “They don’t need to feel like they are less important than the little kids. They need to feel they are just as important.”
Teens frequently ask for expensive electrical items such as video game systems and smartphones that are out of reach for the Cheer Fund’s budget, Noblitt said.
But it appears the majority of teens understand the financial limitations of charities and are requesting more affordable items, the co-chairman said.
He said some of the most popular items being requested are personal hygiene and hair care products, as well as nail polish, colognes and bath soaps.
“Anything that will either make you smell good or look pretty,” Noblitt said.
Phone accessories such as wireless earbuds are also in high demand, he said. There were also several requests for gift cards to establishments such as Starbucks, Arby’s and Ulta Beauty.
“We’ve also received a ton of requests for guitar picks,” Noblitt said. “That was a new one for me. But we went to Tom Pickett’s Music Center and picked up a whole load of guitar picks.”
With a Dec. 8th deadline fast approaching for those seeking assistance, the two programs still accepting registrations through the Holiday Helpline are Toys For Tots and the Cheer Fund, Monroe said.
“The only major difference between those two programs is whether you want it delivered or pick it up yourself,” Monroe said. “A lot of them are choosing the deliveries by Cheer Fund volunteers in order to save on gas money.”
The Helpline number is 812-375-2216, and is manned weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Due to higher numbers, the Cheer Fund will need more volunteer drivers on Delivery Day, Noblitt said. The gift boxes will be delivered starting at 8 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 16. The Cheer Fund headquarters is located at 2674 Verhulst Drive, just north of the Evolution Training Center.
Now in its 93rd year, the Cheer Fund is known as the oldest charity in Bartholomew County that depends solely on public donations to help children and teens in need at Christmas.
Mike Wolanin | The Republic Columbus Fire Capt. Mike Wilson, left, and his wife Melissa wait to load boxes of gifts into vehicles on the annual Columbus Firemen’s Cheer Fund distribution day at the Cheer Fund building in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 17, 2022.