Discover the humble beginnings of Suffolk’s Cheer Fund

Published 9:15 pm Tuesday, October 31, 2023

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Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series that takes a look back at the growth of the Suffolk News-Herald’s Cheer Fund

Just six days before Christmas in 1934, the Suffolk News-Herald published a front-page editorial calling on residents to help local charitable organizations meet the citizens’ demands during the longest and deepest downturn in United States history — The Great Depression.

Calling the situation an “emergency,” the editorial written by the News-Herald called on Suffolkians to help raise $500 — adjusting for inflation, that equates to approximately $11,000 today — saying, “There should be at least one hundred men and women who would gladly give five dollars each to avert this emergency, which will be equivalent to a catastrophe.”

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The editorial goes on to say, “The dilemma, with a joyless and perhaps footless Christmas for many of our children, the News-Herald has been requested to attempt to raise a fund sufficient to take care of those who will most surely be unprovided without this means,” the editorial said. “So we have set the goal at $500, which [a] reliable estimate says will be required to meet the emergency.”

A committee comprised of two men and two women, each from the Rotary Club, Lions Club, and Professional Women’s Club, was formed to distribute the money raised.

By the time the Dec. 19 edition hit the streets, the fund had achieved 5% of its goal — signaling the birth of the Cheer Fund. The first public contributors, as listed in the newspaper, included the Suffolk News-Herald, W.S. Beamon, Miss Daisy Nurney, Maurice E. Bennett, Frank Sullivan, and W.A. Joyner.

At press time for the Dec. 24 edition of the newspaper, the fund had exceeded the $500 goal, providing 102 families with baskets filled with food items to help them get through the holiday.

While the fund thrived for the next six years, World War II put some strain on the funding, evidenced by a plea from the newspaper in the Dec. 5, 1940 edition.

“Although the Cheer Fund is progressing more rapidly than last year as far as individual contributions are concerned, none of the usual group gifts have been sent in, and the amount of over $400 raised last year to care for nearly 200 people probably won’t be realized unless these gifts come in,” the article reads.

Although that year’s total eclipsed $700, 1944 proved to be a boom for the fund, raising nearly $1,000.

Slow starts plagued the fund, but aside from 1943, donations rolled in quickly in the later days leading up to Christmas.

In 1945, the committee announced there would be no Cheer Fund. Not for lack of donations, in fact, then general manager of the News-Herald W.J. Missett said enough funding was available to any family in need of assistance. 

By the end of the 1950s, the fund had set a goal of $2,000 — again, adjusting for inflation, $2,000 today equates to roughly $25,500 — and just like years past, the fund met that goal. Fifty-two years in, the fund was stronger than ever.

In 1969, the Cheer Fund teamed up with The Salvation Army, public welfare departments, civic and social organizations, churches, and individuals for the first time. In an article published on Dec. 31, 1969, the News Herald announced the same arrangement would continue in 1970. 

By that time, over 700 families were receiving baskets, with most of them being recommended by the coordinated program.

In the 1970s, the Cheer Fund used its donations to purchase food tickets or what we know today as SNAP benefits. 

In 1972, the newspaper announced the Cheer Fund raised over $4,000, its largest total at the time, only to see it broken the following year, taking in $4,612.25.

By the mid-1970s, the Cheer Fund was created to help local drives such as Toys for Tots in their efforts to bring holiday cheer to those underprivileged in Suffolk.

In the Oct. 21, 1976 edition of the newspaper, Then Toys for Tots coordinator W.E. Ashley, Jr. told the News-Herald its drive would only be what it was with the assistance of the Cheer Fund.

“‘It’s a tremendous effort,” says Ashley, who adds that the annual program would not be feasible without the help of the Suffolk News-Herald’s Cheer Fund. ‘We’re hoping that the public will support us through the gifts to the Cheer Fund.’”

By the end of the 1970s, the goal for the fund had risen to $6,000 and, much like many years in the past, far exceeded that goal.

In the next edition of the Suffolk News-Herald, we will look at the progression of the Cheer Fund from 1980 through its present-day existence.

Please send your donation payable to the Suffolk Cheer Fund to:

Suffolk Cheer Fund

c/o Margie Wiley

P.O. Box 1411

Suffolk, VA 23439

You may also stop by Ferguson Rawls & Raines located at 332 W Constance Road, Suffolk, VA 23434, please call 757-539-2400 before bringing your check, or stop by the Suffolk News-Herald located at 157 N. Main St in downtown Suffolk, with permission a photo can be taken as you are presenting your donation.