The Columbus Firemen’s 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 the needy with useful gifts and a meaningful experience.
The Firemen’s Cheer Fund was founded by the Columbus Fire Department in 1930, when some caring firemen realized that poor children probably see few, if any, gifts under a Christmas tree. City firemen banded together that Christmas to hold a party for some 50 needy children to whom they gave presents, using $1,500 dollars collected from the community.
One of the firemen dressed as Santa Claus and distributed the gifts during a party held at the old fire station just west of the former city hall on Fifth Street. The number of youngsters receiving gifts multiplied in the next few years as the Cheer Fund’s goals caught on, and city firemen adopted the project on an annual basis. To handle the overflow of children at the popular Christmas party held each December, the firemen erected a large circus like tent next to the fire station.
The Cheer Fund lapsed from 1945-1947, when city firemen felt their efforts were duplicating that of other community-minded groups concerned about the poor.
Firemen re-instituted the fund in 1948 and added a new wrinkle; that of delivering the gifts. To this day the public still helps delivering the gifts and food baskets. Community Picnics were held from 1949 to 1951 at Donner Center, The Crump Theater, and the Indiana National Guard Armory, which was then located at Seventh and Franklin streets.
In 1949, the Cheer Fund gave its first bicycle, and from that Christmas forward, the refurbished bikes are among the most popular gifts the fund gives. Today local bike shops as well as Boy Scout groups help refurbish and repair bicycles, which are distributed to all children who request them. By 1949 some 400 children were receiving toys and treats at the parties at Christmas time.
In 1957, the project was expanded to include all of Bartholomew County. In 1963, the Cheer Fund became a corporation, and a board of directors was named. At this point the City Police force also joined in helping coordinate the project for a period of time, but has since stopped their involvement.
Experiencing even more success in the mid and late 1960’s, the fund began providing food baskets to the elderly, which continues today.
Just before the economy started to suffer in the mid 1970’s, the Cheer Fund broke new ground by making a special gift of a television set to the County Home for the Aged. They also gave a fleet of 25 bicycles to the local Children’s Home and began delivering gifts to the pediatric ward at the hospital.
Today the Cheer Fund continues to reach for new heights, and explore new ways to help out during the holiday season. In 2006 the Cheer Fund provided 148 smoke detectors for families that couldn’t afford them. In 2008 the Cheer Fund was able to provide 2040 kids with gifts, the most it has ever been able to do. Today’s annual fundraisers include the chili cook-off, Radio Control Air Show, Pictures with Santa, Motorcycle ride, and many, many more.
The Cheer Fund is coordinated through the efforts of the City of Columbus Firemen, with the assistance from a volunteer Board of Directors. Each year it depends on volunteer contributions from the public to reach a monetary goal for the purchase of new toys, food, and clothing for underprivileged children in Bartholomew County. Also, the Cheer Fund depends on the public in helping with toy sorting, boxing, and delivering of gift boxes and food baskets. The public also brings in hundreds of used toys to be cleaned and refurbished for distribution.
The times are always changing and the Cheer Fund continues to adapt and conform to today’s standards. You can now find the Cheer Fund online at its website; www.cheerfund.com, or on facebook. The faces on the Cheer Fund change as firemen retire and children receiving toys grow up, but the Cheer Fund keeps as its purpose the thoughts of the firemen founding the charity in the 1930’s.