A palpable sense of excitement lingered Thursday afternoon, walking into the main hall of Greensburg’s Knights of Columbus building.
Rows and rows of white cardboard boxes, empty only two days prior, are now largely full — many to capacity — with various stuffed animals, board games and other assorted toys jutting out over the rims of several boxes.
Sheila Doerflinger, a Cheer Fund stalwart some 35 years, walked among the rows of white boxes, stacking toys inside based on the ages and number of children typed on printing paper and taped to the outside of each box.
Doerflinger served as something of a De facto supervisor to a handful of “Cheer Fund elves” who assisted her in sorting toys by gender and age and then stacking them into appropriate boxes.
She resisted formal titles, though, instead describing herself as someone who “goes to meetings and gets to do lots of shopping.”
“The older kids are harder to buy for,” she said. “So we usually give them gift certificates that are worth a little extra.”
The gift certificates to which Doerflinger referred are included in every Cheer Fund box — in most cases, one for each child. Those certificates, she explained, can be used to purchase clothes at around a half-dozen local stores who’ve agreed to accept them.
“That’s why we set such high fund raising goals,” she added. “Most of the children receiving toys also receive a gift certificate.”
According to numbers provided by Cheer Fund President and Daily News Publisher Laura Welborn, in 2012 that will mean providing gift certificates to over 800 children.
Those numbers don’t take into account the number of toys purchased and distributed to those same 800-plus children, either.
“We’ve received 360 applications so far this year and have approved 314 of them,” Welborn said. “Both are all-time highs.”
To date, however, fundraising for the 101-year-old Decatur County tradition — created all those decades ago by former Daily News Publisher James Caskey — is considerably below usual numbers for this point in the season.
“I think the record number of applications is reflective of these hard economic times,” Welborn said, “as are the lagging fundraising amounts.”
She continued, “We’re kind of spending on faith right now, hoping we’ll make up the difference later on. So we’re entreating the community: If you can donate money, toys and/or food items to the 2012 Cheer Fund, please don’t let all these children down; for so many Decatur County kids, the Cheer Fund IS Christmas.”
The latter sentiment is shared among Doerflinger and those helping her prepare boxes Thursday afternoon for the Christmas-Eve-morning Cheer Fund delivery.
“For me, it just wouldn’t be Christmas without Cheer Fund,” Doerflinger said. “When you get here on Christmas-Eve morning and see all the people running about, carrying boxes this way and that...”
She paused, gazing across the rows of white boxes, before adding, “It’s Christmas. It’s what Christmas is all about. The excitement and kindness and selflessness you feel in this building...there’s just nothing else like it.”
Although Cheer Fund toys are exclusively for the kids, each delivery also includes an assortment of foods.
In 2012, Welborn said, the Cheer Fund food list has been significantly modified to more practically fit the needs of Decatur County families.
“Around half of all Decatur County school children are on free or reduced lunch,” Welborn explained. “So this year, instead of packing traditional Christmas dinners for these kids and families, we’re including things that are easier to prepare and that will last a little longer.”
The reasoning behind the modified food list, Welborn added, is that the more-traditional foods of years past failed to take into account the fact that children on free or reduced lunches still need to eat during the extended school break.
As such, the 2012 Cheer Fund menu will include hot dogs, macaroni and cheese, and other, similar items with longer shelf lives.
For more information on the 2012 Cheer Fund or to view an entire list of donors, visit www.cheerfund.org or call 663-3111.
Contact: Rob Cox at 812-663-3111 x7011.