COLUMBUS, Ind.— There’s a warehouse in Columbus that looks more like a version of Santa Clause’s workshop during the weeks leading up to Dec. 25.
Rows of shelves are filled with toys and gifts, and dozens of “helpers” are constantly moving about loading gifts into shopping carts and boxes.
The warehouse is not an official “Santa’s Workshop” but it is the staging area for the Columbus Firemen’s Cheer Fund.
The Cheer Fund was started in 1930 to help provide children that are less fortunate with a complete “Christmas experience.”
“The Columbus Fireman’s Cheer Fund is all about the kids in this community, that just may not have a Christmas,” Co-chair Jay Smith said.
For almost the entire year, the fire department collects money, gifts and toys that are either bought or donated by members of the community. They then use hundreds of volunteers to help assemble packages to be delivered before Christmas.
“Every year we’re like I don’t know how we’re going to do it, I don’t know how it’s going to come together, and then the public comes together, the toys come in the funds come in, and every year it seems to happen. It’s amazing,” Co-chair Chris Owens said.
During the month of November, the Cheer Fund’s warehouse looks more like a shopping center as carts full of toys, books and bikes are handpicked and packaged up to be sent out.
Volunteers and firefighters meet every Monday, Wednesday and Friday night creating packages for roughly 100 children each night. In 2016, the Cheer Fund helped to supply gifts for roughly 1,200 children across Bartholomew County. Co-chair Jay Smith says he anticipates the fund will reach roughly the same number of children this year.
“I try not to be surprised every year by it, but it’s just incredible how this community steps up with donations, with volunteer hours,” he said.
The firefighters emphasize that they would not be able to accomplish their goals without the support of the community. The Cheer Fund relies solely on donations and volunteers to keep their efforts going.
“It just makes us feel happy, like we can do something to make someone’s life better and to make their Christmas a little more special,” volunteer Michelle Burnett said.
At the end of the day the firefighters say their efforts center around putting a smile on the faces of families who may be going through a hard time.
“ I think about the kids who hopefully their lives might catch a different turn or it might just be that little nudge that mom and dad needed to take that burden of them and concentrate on this and now it’s clear sailing again,” Chris Owens said.
The Cheer Fund and all its volunteers plan on delivering the gifts on December 16.
For more information about the Cheer Fund, how you can sign up or how you can help, you can visit here.