• 84°

Cheer Fund is off and running

Would you be willing to give $17.16 to a needy child for the purchase of a Christmas present? If so, then you are the kind of person the Cheer Fund is looking for this year.

The Cheer Fund has been around for a number of decades now, providing Christmas to needy children all across Suffolk.

It begins with a donation, which is then used to purchase toys. Then, right before Christmas, qualified families bring their children to the “Toy Store” where the little ones are allowed to pick whatever they want from the thousands of available items.

This is John Woleben’s second year as the head of the project, having inherited it from Bill Hayes, who was involved in the program for more than 40 years.

Last year, 2,738 area children were helped with Cheer Fund money and gifts through the Toys for Tots campaign. That number of recipients, said Woleben, was up 500 from the previous year.

Taking that number, and using this year’s goal of $47,000, it works out to $17.16 per child.

Of course, not all of the toys come via purchases using the Cheer Fund money.

Woleben and the other volunteers also collect toys during the period beginning with the first Saturday in November and running through Christmas.

This year’s event began yesterday with the Third Annual Paul Lux Bike Ride for Toys for Tots. It was started by the namesake’s daughter, Patrice Jones, who said her father always believed the holidays were for the children.

Participants gathered at Lakeland High School, bringing with them a toy as their registration fee. They then chose one of three established routes to ride n either a 10-, 33- or 66- mile journey.

Thirty-four riders signed up. There were 14 riders in year one and 31 last year.

Just as the number of riders has grown with each year, so has the number of children the program serves.

Woleben, who has been involved with the program for the last decade, said there has been a steady increase in the number of children in the last five years. While he won’t know how many will be involved this year until they have been helped, he does expect it to go up again.

The children are qualified for the program in two ways.

First, the Suffolk Social Services office keeps a database of those in need and provides that to the Toys for Tots coordinators.

Others come to the program through referrals from the Salvation Army. When somebody calls the Salvation Army with the name of a family in need, Woleben said they are investigated, and if they meet the basic requirements, are added to the list.

There also are two ways the Cheer Fund raises money.

One is through a letter-writing campaign, which has already begun, in which local business and others are asked to donate.

For those who do not receive such a solicitation, donations are accepted at the Suffolk News-Herald office during normal working hours, or through the mail.

For Woleben, being a part of this annual project is something he enjoys doing.

“I love seeing the faces of the kids when they get their toys,” he said “I love helping other people.”