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

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

“Everyone told us they missed packing, so we’re opening it up to the public this year,” said Cheer Fund co-chair Ben Noblitt.

Now in its 92nd year, the Cheer Fund is known as Bartholomew County’s oldest charitable organization that relies solely on public donations for its existence. This is one of many efforts within the Columbus community this Christmas to provide those in need with gifts and holiday cheer.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, gift sorting and gift box wrapping has only been done by firefighters and their family members for the past two years.

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

“The turnout wasn’t as high as we thought, but we’re still working through issues in the registration process,” said Noblitt, who has co-chaired the Cheer Fund with Cory Hampton and Justin Sims since 2018.

But energetic music motivated the small group to pack 49 boxes in just two hours, Noblitt said.

The next public packing parties will take place on Wednesday, November 23 and Tuesday, December 6. Hours will be 6-8 p.m. both nights.

Individuals and families wishing to register for any of these 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 will not be accepted, the co-chair said.

“We had to find a way to avoid a large group of people coming in unannounced wanting to help,” Noblitt said. “Every time we’ve done this in the past, we’ve ended up stepping on each other.”

A family will be considered one person, but Noblitt said they should work as a team on one project at a time.

The charity’s biggest fundraising season is well underway. Organizers feared there would be so much activity on Nov. 4 that attendance at the Firemen’s Chili Cook-off would take a hit. But many took their meal and brought it home or to the event.

The Chili Cook-off raised about $3,100, Noblitt said. The event saw a boost in revenue after firefighters began asking for free will donations, rather than a set price.

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

Another long-running fundraiser is “Kamp Out For Kids”, sponsored by radio station WKKG (101.5 FM). Personalities from the radio station have agreed to camp from 10 a.m. on November 3 to 3 p.m. on November 4.

Preliminary estimates said 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 established in 2007, model airplane enthusiasts decided to adopt the Columbus Firemen’s Cheer Fund as their official charity.

This year RC Fliers broke a 15-year tradition by trying something different, said club treasurer John Vinson. Instead of having a fundraising exhibition, the event became a precision flight contest hosted by Rob Weismiller, member of the International Miniature Aerobatic Club (IMAC) and Senior Aircraft Technician for Cummins Inc.

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

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

There are actually two different 24 hour board game marathons, one starts at 6pm on Friday November 25th and the second starts at the same time on Saturday November 26th. Participants are encouraged to learn a quick game and donate, or stay overnight and continue playing until the next morning.

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

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