Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

December 26, 2013

Cold outside, but warm hearts abound: It's Cheer Fund day

By Rob Cox Daily News
Greensburg Daily News

---- — GREENSBURG — “Peace on Earth, good will toward men.”

Those words seem inescapable this time of year. As we’re out shopping for gifts; as we gather round Christmas trees to give and receive and open lovingly-wrapped packages; as we pause in our churches for prayer and around our tables to bless the traditional family meal – those words, though rooted in faith, transcend religion or doctrine and simply remind us that, at its core, Christmas is the season when that timeworn cliché resonates within the heart: It truly IS better to give than to receive.

Anyone in Decatur County who might need reminding of the true meaning behind Christmas needed look no further than the Knights of Columbus Hall Tuesday morning, where the 102-year-old county tradition of Cheer Fund jingled and rolled into motion. Some 150 volunteers – including 44 delivery drivers – turned out bright and early Tuesday morning for their chance to play elves to nearly 360 families accepted to receive a measure of Christmas spirit from the 2013 Cheer Fund.

Volunteers lined up, cycling through the line again and again, carrying one box at a time to waiting vehicles in the Knight’s parking lot. To borrow from another timeworn Christmas cliché – this one decidedly more secular, but no less apt – the weather outside was truly frightful Tuesday morning, with temperatures hovering in the teens and a bitter wind buffeting and biting any exposed bit of skin.

None of that bitterness found its way into the demeanor of the volunteers, though. The Knight’s Hall and the parking lot beyond were alive with that special sense of warmth and amity; that unique mix of community, hope and unadulterated kindness that only Christmas can bring.

Among the 2013 Cheer Fund volunteers helping load and deliver boxes was 15-year-old Greensburg Community High School (GCHS) Ukraine Exchange Student Oksana Hrynyuk, who’s been in the Tree City with the Schutte Family since August.

Hrynyuk told the Daily News she’s never experienced anything like Cheer Fund. Where she’s from in the Ukraine, people simply don’t reach out to help one another in such ways.

“This is my first time,” she said. “I love it. I love the opportunity to help someone by helping load boxes and deliver packages. I’m very impressed.”

The young Ukrainian teen was so impressed with Cheer Fund, in fact, she hopes to export the tradition to her homeland sometime after returning home at the end of this school year.

Also among the volunteers Tuesday morning was Greensburg Junior High School 7th-Grader Wyatt Vanderbur, 13, who, for the past three years, has undertaken a mission to support Cheer Fund by decorating Decatur County mailboxes for the holidays. Vanderbur goes door-to-door, offering to decorate mailboxes for the holidays in exchange for a minimum donation to Cheer Fund. In 2013 alone, he raised $435.

Vanderbur’s mother, Amy, told the Daily News that although Wyatt created the mailbox initiative on his own, it takes a family effort to make it work.

“I help him decorate the boxes,” she said, “and grandma helps with getting the decorations together.”

Although Amy’s parents were regular Cheer Fund volunteers and supporters at one time, Amy herself had never participated until Wyatt took on the cause, continuing the family tradition.

Alex Meyer, a 2008 GCHS graduate and a professional pitcher in the Minnesota Twins farm-club system, was also on hand Tuesday morning, cycling through the line, carrying and loading boxes, readying to help make deliveries.

“I’ve been doing this about 10 years,” said Meyer, who currently pitches for the New Britain Rock Cats, out of Connecticut. “It’s so important to help out; everybody’s here, pitching in, and I just want to be with my family and my community. There are so many people who need help and it just makes you feel better, being here with everybody, doing your part.”

2013 also marked a kind of “changing of the guard” for Cheer Fund, with longtime Food Committee Chairman Bob Navarra, 81, stepping aside due to health concerns.

“My body simply won’t let me do it anymore,” Navarra said. “My doctor says the same thing and my wife, too. You can bet I’m gonna miss it. Believe me; I don’t want to step aside, but you have to know when it’s time.”

Navarra has spent the last several months training Cheer Fund Veteran Sean Durbin as his replacement. Navarra expressed confidence he leaves Cheer Fund in more-than-capable hands.

For his part, Durbin spent 28 years helping deliver Cheer Fund boxes. He told the Daily News that stepping into an organizational role felt like a natural transition.

“Cheer Fund really brings out the best in Decatur County,” he said.

Durbin’s wife, Lori, is the Cheer Fund’s toy coordinator, having recently stepped into that role after eight or nine years on the toy committee. Lori Durbin took over for longtime Cheer Fund Toy Committee stalwarts Greta Solgere and Sheila Doerflinger.

Contact: Rob Cox 812-663-3111 x7011; robert.cox@greensburgdailynews.com