In the days leading up to Christmas, nearly 800 baskets of food will be delivered to families throughout Johnson County.

Struggling families will open their doors to find a fresh ham, eggs, milk and bread to cook a holiday feast. Bags filled with canned vegetable soup, packages of macaroni and cheese and jars of peanut butter will provide enough food to last the family for days afterward.

The annual Good Cheer Fund delivery has been a lifeline for the hungry for more than 90 years. Financial donations are used to buy fresh goods such as eggs, milk and meat, while students across Johnson County collect canned goods to fill the baskets.

Over the course of the next month, the community will contribute more than $25,000 and 35,000 canned goods to the effort.

“The community traditionally looks at this time of year as a way to give back,” said Jake Sappenfield, chairman of the all-volunteer effort. “The Good Cheer Fund has been here for so many years to help people in the time of need, and we have good people in the community who are able to help and want to help.”

The Good Cheer Fund was founded in 1921 by Austin Flinn, a local funeral home owner, and the Franklin Evening Star. The effort helped feed 110 families that first year.

That number has ballooned over the years. Last year, 775 deliveries went out around the county, Sappenfield said.

As the Good Cheer Fund has become engrained as a Johnson County tradition, people from all across the county have stepped forward to contribute to the effort.

The local schools are major contributors, providing most of the food that makes up the baskets.

Grade levels and individual classrooms compete to see who can donate the most food. Sporting events and movie theaters accept nonperishable food instead of money for admission to special events.

“Every canned good comes from them, and that makes up more than half the basket. We do not buy any additional canned goods,” Sappenfield said. “Without them, we wouldn’t be able to feed nearly as many people.”

An army of volunteers ensures the baskets are assembled in the days leading up to the delivery.

Recipients are referred to local organizers by schools, social organizations and other social service groups. Families are chosen based on the degree of need. Those referred from the local schools are given priority, Sappenfield said.

A main delivery force gathers in Franklin before dawn on Christmas Eve to pass out the food. Volunteers will distribute 350 baskets throughout Franklin, Bargersville and Trafalgar.

The Greenwood Fraternal Order of Police is responsible for delivery in the northern part of the county. Members and other volunteers help organize the distribution of 225 baskets in Greenwood and the Center Grove area.

That area has had need grow the most, Sappenfield said. In 2013, 100 more families applied to receive a basket than the year before, and organizers expect that to increase this year.

“Every year, we’re assessing the need; and I can tell you, from the applications we’ve already seen, the need is as high or more than last year,” he said.

Around Edinburgh and Nineveh, distribution falls to the Edinburgh Fire Department. Firefighters will pass out 200 baskets to residents on the morning of Christmas Eve. The department has been working on the Good Cheer Fund since 1975.

Sappenfield said that, without the effort and support from all of the businesses and students and organizations that help, it would be impossible to feed the hundreds of families in need this holiday season.

“People see a need, and they want to help with that,” he said.

About the Fund

What: Good Cheer Fund, an annual effort to pass out holiday food baskets to the needy throughout Johnson County. Baskets include a mix of canned foods and fresh items such as a ham or chicken, eggs, milk and cheese.

How many: 775 baskets

Distribution: 350 baskets will go to the Franklin, Trafalgar and Bargersville areas; 225 will go to Greenwood and the northern part of the county; and 200 will go to the Edinburgh area.

How to apply: Applications, both in Spanish and English, can be found today and Dec. 6 in the Daily Journal. To be considered for a basket, applications must be received by Dec. 12. For more information, call 736-1722.

How to give: Monetary donations will be accepted until the end of December. Donations can be mailed to the Daily Journal, P.O. Box 699, Franklin, IN 46131, or dropped off at the Daily Journal at 30 S. Water St., Second floor, Suite A, in Franklin.

Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.