Cheer Fund is neighbors helping their neighbors

Published 4:27 pm Friday, November 18, 2022

For Councilwoman Shelley Butler-Barlow, neighbors helping neighbors is of utmost importance.

It’s what has drawn her to become involved with Cheer Fund for the first time this year. Butler-Barlow said she believes it’s important for people in the community to do things that have a local impact.

“I think it’s more meaningful and it’s more impactful if the money you are donating is staying in your community and helping people that are your neighbors, even if you don’t know them personally.”


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With the 2022 fundraising drive underway, the Cheer Fund is gearing up to provide gifts under the Christmas tree for many families with its goal of $40,000.

Christmas is a very special time of the year and something to be thankful for, Butler-Barlow said. It’s a time for families to be together, to have fun and to share the magic of the holiday.

For children, one of the most special parts of the holiday is the fun of seeing what awaits them under the tree Christmas morning.

“I think that’s another important part…to get some fun things, a toy or something special that brightens your day,” she explained, not just necessities such as shoes or underwear.

“I think it’s wonderful to be able to take some of that burden off the family” she said.

She said it’s a simple thing to write a check and donate money. But then the real work comes, with volunteers, such as her, joining to go out and gather the items for children and then to get them into the hands of the folks who need them.

“It’s a lot of work, but a lot of impact,” she said. “We certainly know there is a lot of need in our community. And it’s not always easy to find the folks that are in need. Some people don’t want that known.”

Butler-Barlow said she is delighted that there are efforts such as the Cheer Fund that can help make Christmas special for children in the community.

While this is her first year of involvement with the Cheer Fund, she has long worked in the Chuckatuck community to help bring smiles to children’s faces at Christmas. Butler-Barlow has worked in the past through programs at her church, with the Angel Tree and with the Civic League to meet the needs of others.

“The Cheer Fund is fulfilling a real need,” she said. “There is something so special about getting a name, a list and gender and going to purchase the items for each child.”

She recalls a recent year when she and a friend took 10 children’s names from the Angel Tree and did the shopping for the items on their lists.

“It’s just an amazing feeling,” she said, recalling they purchased two or three bikes, a skateboard and several other items.

“It was so much fun,” Butler-Barlow said. “I think everyone gives out of the goodness of their heart. I think the anonymity of it is appealing to me.”

With inflation making family budgets tighter this year, she said she knows there is need in the Suffolk community.

Butler-Barlow said that just prior to the interview Thursday, she was at the food distribution in Chuckatuck, where she is a volunteer. They were distributing food just in time for Thanksgiving to help with their holiday meals.

“I can tell you there was a long line this morning,” she said. “There’s no doubt there are folks struggling to meet their basic needs.” And she said she is sure they did not have enough to provide food items for everyone who wanted their help.

She said it’s just not clear whether they are busier due to better publicizing the distribution or if there is more need.

“I do think that I’ve heard as I’ve talked to people in the community, with the higher cost of things, maybe you can afford your groceries or the gas for your car, but then there is nothing left for any of the extra things,” she said. “I think people are covering their basic necessities, but there’s nothing left after you do that.”

This is where the Cheer Fund comes in to help.

In the strange times \we are living in, through the past several difficult years, Butler-Barlow said the world appears to be a different place.

Her hope is the Cheer Fund can help change that so people in the community can connect to have good relationships and conversations with their neighbors.

“Maybe we start that here at a local level in Suffolk and it spreads outward from there,” she said. “I think we need to all find ways to be kind to each other and to help each other so we can get back to a better state of affairs. Rather than everyone being mad at each other all of the time.

She said it’s a great opportunity to help build on a goal of hers — to see everyone being kind to one another.

Butler-Barlow shared some wisdom from her 93-year-old mother.

“She always tells you if you are in a funk or if you’re in a bad mood or things aren’t going well, the best thing to do to lift you out of that is to do something good for somebody else. And she’s very right on that.”

Butler-Barlow recommends that anyone who is feeling like Scrooge this Christmas should donate something to the Cheer Fund.

“I think it will give them a lift,” she said.

The Cheer Fund was started by the newspaper during the Great Depression to provide clothes and food for needy families. It eventually began providing toys for children and teamed up with the Toys for Tots and the Salvation Army.

These days, this program of the newspaper is its own nonprofit, with an independent board, and each year collects roughly $40,000 from individuals, groups and foundations in the community. This money goes directly to the purchase of toys by the Salvation Army.

To donate to the Cheer Fund, send a check to P.O. Box 1220, Suffolk, VA 23439 or bring it to the newspaper office, 157 N. Main St., from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday. We will list your donation in the newspaper, but it can be marked “anonymous” if you like.

Donations may be made in honor of or in memory of someone. If you bring the check to our office, we’ll even take your picture as you hand it to one of our staff.