The triumph and tenacity of Suffolk’s Cheer Fund

Published 6:03 pm Tuesday, November 7, 2023

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In part one of this two-part series, we highlighted the early years of the Cheer Fund through 1979. In part two, we will at the later years, starting in 1980, when the fund exceeded its $7,000 goal, bringing much-needed Christmas gifts to nearly 3,000 children in Suffolk through Toys for Tots.

By 1983, the Cheer Fund eclipsed the $10,000 mark, solidifying its place in Suffolk’s rich history of helping those in need throughout the community. By this time, students from the John Yeates High School DECA club were heavily involved in distributing collection boxes throughout the school and area businesses. Many prominent people in the community were also starting to share their childhood memories with notes accompanying Cheer Fund donations. In a Nov. 15, 1985 article in the Suffolk News-Herald, Sadie Wyche, who was one of many credited with establishing Paul D. Camp Community College in Franklin, said although she was nearing 90 at the time, she still remembered being a “tot.”

Others were sending in donations in memory of their loved ones, sparking a wave of generosity that transcended the early years of the funds’ creation.

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Donations were not limited to those in Suffolk, evidenced by an article in the Dec. 28, 1986 edition of the Suffolk News-Herald highlighting a $500 contribution from a Virginia Beach resident, Ralph Nahra. That donation was not only significant because it came from outside of Suffolk, but it brought that year’s fund over its $14,000 goal. 

By the end of the decade, the fund had pushed its goal to $20,000 – adjusting for inflation, which equates to just over $77,000 in today’s economy. 

As the Cheer Fund rolled into the 90s, large department stores were now offering discounts to fund administrators to purchase the toys needed each year. Roses and the now defunct Ames reportedly provided discounts of up to 30% off. 

While individual residents, schools, and civic organizations highlighted the donations, many of the corporate neighbors began to get involved, like QVC, who, in 1991, contributed $250 to the fund, all the way up to Walmart, shoveling in $1,971.21 in 1999.

The plea to the community felt different in 1999, as the community had suffered immensely through Hurricanes Dennis, Floyd, and Irene. In an editorial, the Suffolk News-Herald wrote, “Every year, for decades, our readers have responded with generosity and compassion to the plight of those less fortunate. This year is different,” the editorial said. “It’s different because so many of us suffered at the hands of hurricanes Dennis and Floyd and Irene. Different because we’ve already given so much to help those who lost their homes, their businesses, or their possessions in those storms. And now this newspaper asks that you again find it in your hearts and wallets to come to the aid of those who need you.”

With a goal of $43,000, the fund fell short of that goal, raising only $32,015.75. Many contributing factors led to the shortfall, but none were as impactful as the floods. 

Then chairman of the Cheer Fund, Frank Rawls, said in January 2000, several businesses had donated to flood victims in Suffolk, Franklin, and the counties of Isle of Wight and Southampton. 

“Clearly those floods put a strain on what money people had for other charities and especially the Cheer Fund,” Rawls said in a Jan. 23, 2000 news report.

So, in 2000, the goal was reduced from $43,000 to $35,000. The Blair Brothers kicked it off with a $1,300 donation and urged every business to participate.

“I think that every business should participate,” said William Blair, owner of The Blair Brothers, in a Dec. 1, 2000 News-Herald article. “People who can afford it should help the underprivileged.”

The Great Recession of 2007 again took a toll on the Cheer Fund. With a goal of $50,000, the fund only managed to bring in approximately $30,000. The publisher of the Suffolk News-Herald said, “The economy has been sluggish and folks have held onto dollars that otherwise they would have given,” Lindsey said. “Even though we didn’t meet the goal by Christmas this year, I’m still thankful for everyone who has given.”

In 2008, the fund raised $43,000, but only after national media coverage followed a break-in at the Toys for Tots warehouse in Suffolk. 

In 2009 and 2010, the fund failed to reach its goal of $45,000, prompting Rawls to make a plea of his own. 

“We’re going to have a difficult time maintaining the quality and quantity of toys without meeting our goal in the future,” Rawls said. “If that continues, then our ability to help Toys for Tots purchase quality toys will be diminished.”

Still struggling to hit the target each year, new and innovative events were created to help boost the fund’s donations. From the famed RC Fly-in to charity golf tournaments to a coffee shop selling coffee cup sleeves, the community continued to support this long-standing holiday tradition. 

From 2011 until 2105, donations to the fund hovered around $33,000. In 2017, the Cheer Fund came ever-so-close to the elusive $45,000 mark, bringing in $43,000, the largest total in over a decade. The fund topped the $40,000 mark for three consecutive years. Then the unthinkable happened – a pandemic struck. COVID-19 fundamentally changed life in just about every way, both worldwide and for everyone in Suffolk – donors and recipients alike.

In December 2020, during this time of uncertainty, the Cheer Fund managed to hit $40,000 for a fourth consecutive year, proving, again, that Suffolk is a giving community, no matter what adversity it is faced with. 

As the world put the pandemic behind, the Cheer Fund efforts ramped up, and in 2022, the Cheer Fund not only achieved the ever-elusive $45,000 mark – it flat out shattered it, bringing in $49,425.

As we move into the 89th year of the Suffolk Cheer Fund, we are reminded that the Suffolk News-Herald not only serves as a source of local news and information but a vehicle to help those less fortunate.

“Of the many ways we serve the Suffolk community, the Cheer Fund is one of our favorites,” said Steve Stewart, former News-Herald publisher and now president and chief executive officer of the Suffolk News-Herald’s parent company Boone Newsmedia, Inc. “The Suffolk News-Herald and the Cheer Fund have been inseparable for [nearly] nine decades, and the Christmas season wouldn’t be the same without the opportunity to partner with others in the community to make the holidays brighter for those among us who are less fortunate.”


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.