2008-12-10 / Front Page

Christmas Cheer Signups Set New Record: Rohrs

This year, a record 713 families have signed up for the Fulton County Christmas Cheer program, said Cecily Rohrs, Ridgeville Corners.

Rohrs, who has overseen the project since 1984, said that's about 150 more than in previous years.

"For whatever reason, almost always about a third of the eligible families sign up.

"In the past, we would have about 1,500 eligible families. This year, we had 2,100 eligible households. In my head, I said we would end up serving about a third. There's nothing scientifi c about it," she said.

Rohrs said she's getting 40 to 45 calls a day on her home answering machine from families who've just received layoff notices, asking if they can participate this year. She said that's just the calls on her answering machine- that doesn't count the calls she answers.

For those who just received bad news and who ask to participate in Cheer, Rohrs said the answer is no. To participate, Rohrs said a family must be enrolled in some form of public assistance.

For those unable to participate in Christmas Cheer, there are other options, she said.

She said her next concern is the working poor- families who were barely scraping by on what salaries they were making, then saw their work hours cut, or lost their overtime.

"People who have never looked at Christmas with fear before, are fearful of Christmas," she said.

Cheer

Christmas Cheer has functioned in Fulton County for well over 25 years. In the early years, one service organization would take care of Cheer one year, followed by a different group the next. There was no continuity.

In 1984, when she first chaired Christmas Cheer, she said she was asked by the predecessor of today's Ohio Department of Job and Family Services to take it over.

Today, the Christmas Cheer program is a charitable organization, with 501(c)(3) status- meaning gifts to Christmas Cheer are tax-exempt.

Christmas Cheer gathers cash and other donations, and sets up a "store" in the Junior Fair Building at the Fulton County Fairgrounds.

Everyone starts with a basic box, which contains detergent, shampoo, deodorant, and other items food stamps won't buy.

Then a Cheer volunteer "shops" with the person, picking out everything from toys and food to blankets.

"We're the only program that allows people to shop, because we're all about dignity," Rohrs said.

Allowing people to pick what they need provides more dignity than simply shoving a box of things into their hands.

Also, shopping with a needy person "allows us to share a chunk of our heart, and them to share a chunk of their hearts," she said.

Diversity

Rohrs said one of the things she loves about Christmas Cheer is the diversity in the people who help with the program.

This year, residents at the Fulton Suites and Fulton Manor, the independent living and nursing home operated by the Fulton County Health Center, helped address and stuff envelopes.

FFA students erect the shelves and "build" the store, while DECA students from Wauseon purchase or accept donations of toys. DECA is an organization for students interested in business.

Others groups handle other tasks, and today, it's so organized everyone knows what they need to do and when they need to do it.

"There are no meetings, no committees. People just come and do their job," Rohrs said.

Cars

At the end of the Christmas part of Christmas Cheer, if there is money left over (and there usually is), Rohrs will use it to make emergency car repairs for people who must have a car to travel back and forth to work, and can't afford the repair.

For example, if someone needs a tire, battery, or alternator, she will arrange for a Fulton County mechanic to do the work.

"The mechanics take care of us," she said.

That has evolved into an informal car donation program.

Old cars, with little life left, are simply given to those who can use them. If a nicer car is donated, it's sold, and the money used to buy less expensive go-to-work cars.

Waiting In Line

This year, the store will open to eligible families Wednesday and Thursday, Dec. 17-18.

"Regardless of the weather, there will be people in line all night. By sunup, no matter what, the line will extend to the north fence," she said.

"It used to make me mad. I saw that as a selfish thing. But then I realized they were doing whatever they can, the best they can, for their families."

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