Every year, the Good Cheer Fund provides hundreds of Johnson County families with a holiday meal that they otherwise might not have.

Baskets are filled with ham, potatoes, bread, cheese and eggs, along with days’ worth of canned soup, peanut butter and other nonperishable items. Volunteers drop the food off on the weekend and days leading up to Christmas.

The need is more in-demand than ever in Greenwood and the northern parts of the county, organizers say. But a lack of donations threatens to limit how many people are helped.

Organizers have seen an increase in applications for the Good Cheer Fund as they prepare for the annual food delivery. At the same time, donations to the fund are lagging behind what has been collected by mid-December in years past.

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While lower-than-expected contributions will not affect the number of families who receive food this year, it could impact how many families are helped in 2016 and beyond.

“We always have seed money that we’ve saved from the previous year,” said Jake Sappenfield, chairman of the Good Cheer Fund. “It creates a bit of a crisis going in to next year. I would be worried for next year starting out with if we don’t pick up donations.”

The Good Cheer Fund is a Johnson County holiday tradition dating back to 1921. This year, organizers plan to provide 800 baskets of food to needy families on Saturday and Christmas Eve day.

Schoolchildren and other organizations help contribute the 35,000 canned vegetables, boxed pasta, soup and other nonperishable food. But the milk, eggs, ham and other fresh goods are all purchased using donations made by the community.

To help organizers prepare for the next year’s delivery, Sappenfield aims to have between $20,000 and $25,000 in reserve going into January. That will allow him to better plan food orders and where to distribute baskets in 2016.

So far, the fund has brought in less than $10,000. On Dec. 16 last year, people had donated $11,280. By the end of December 2014, the community had donated more than $29,000.

“There’s some concern. Compared to previous years, donations are really slow coming in,” Sappenfield said.

The trickle of donations in early December is something Good Cheer organizers see every few years. But typically by the middle of the month, the pace had picked up.

Sappenfield is confident that the normal level of donations will be met. He suspects that the unseasonably warm weather has contributed to help Christmas “sneak up” on people this year.

“Snow on the ground puts people in the Christmas mood. We haven’t had that yet, and it doesn’t feel like Christmas,” he said.

Even volunteers, who are integral in putting together the baskets and delivering to houses all over the county, have been slow in contacting Sappenfield.

“I’ve shot emails and texts to about half of my people the other night just to check. Usually they’ve all gotten back to me by now, and we’re a week out,” he said. “They’re all doing it, it just snuck up on them.”

That is concerning considering that demand is at an all-time high in Greenwood, Sappenfield said.

Organizers received 343 applications for baskets from the northern part of the county, with only 240 baskets allotted for the area.

“We got a big rush from the schools that we weren’t expecting in the last week,” Sappenfield said. “We had to spend hours going through all of those and getting baskets to the ones who needed it most.”

No plans are being discussed to add baskets to the area, he said. But organizers are working on additional aid or grocery gift cards to help some of the families not receiving a basket.

While monetary donations may be lagging this year, local schools have stepped up their contributions of canned food, Sappenfield said.

Clark-Pleasant Intermediate School spent most of November collecting food and ended up providing 3,900 pounds of food, filling more than 100 baskets.

Elementary schools such as Break-O-Day in New Whiteland and Northeast in Greenwood have both delivered large loads of food.

The participation from students and others in the community is encouraging. Now, the financial generosity needs to follow in its wake.

“The need is great,” Sappenfield said, “and we’ll get it done, one way or another.”

At a glance

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: 800 baskets

Distribution: 360 baskets will go to the Franklin, Trafalgar and Bargersville areas; 240 will go to Greenwood and the northern part of the county; and 200 will go to the Edinburgh area.

How to give: Monetary donations are being accepted and 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.

How to help: Good Cheer Fund organizers are still looking for volunteers to help sort and assemble food baskets starting at noon Saturday at Johnson County REMC, 750 International Drive, Franklin.

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