When Ed Teets took over as chairman of the Good Cheer Fund, the annual charity was in trouble.

A lack of leadership threatened to end the tradition of passing out baskets of food to needy families. The first year Teets volunteered to guide it, the effort was able to help 112 families, all of them located in or just outside of Franklin.

“Up until that point, that was the most we ever gave out,” Teets said. “We thought that was a lot, and it was a lot of work.”

Much has changed about the Good Cheer Fund — and the needs of the people of Johnson County — since that holiday season in 1958. Last year, 800 deliveries of eggs, milk, cheese, ham and a variety of canned goods were distributed to all corners of the county.

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Hundreds of volunteers help collect the food, fill the baskets and take them to the houses chosen to receive them. School children help provide close to 40,000 nonperishable food items — soup, vegetables, peanut butter, boxed meals and other items.

But while the fund has grown, the one constant has been Teets. After serving as chairman for 37 years, he still offers his experience and guidance, manning the “command center” that serves as the organizational brain on delivery day.

“He’s always there,” said Jake Sappenfield, the current chairman of the fund. “By noon, you’re ready to go home and be done. But Eddy’s still there, on the phones, making sure everything gets done.”

The Good Cheer Fund is the annual charity drive raising money and food to help the hungry during the holiday season. Donations from the community are used to buy fresh food, such as produce, potatoes, meat, cheese and milk.

On top of those contributions, children throughout the county collect nonperishable items to ensure people have three or four days worth of food around Christmas.

The fund was founded in 1921 by Austin Flinn, a local funeral home owner, and the Franklin Evening Star. That first year, $169 was donated to help feed 110 families.

Though the charity drive was maintained every year since, by the mid-1950s, it was in danger of dissolving. The chairman at the time was unable to continue leading it, and churches discussed ending the charity effort.

That’s when Teets stepped in. He had been serving as a member of the board appointed by local churches to oversee the benefit each year, and with the need for someone to lead it, he offered his help.

“It was going to fold. They asked me if I’d chair it, and of course I agreed to,” he said.

“At the time, we delivered out the basement of the (First Baptist Church) for thirty years. You wouldn’t be able to do that today, it’s gotten too big.”

The first year he served as chairman, there was no dedicated phone line set up for needy families to call and submit their names for help.

All of the calls went to Teets’ home, where his wife, Martha, served as the intermediary.

“She was getting phone calls all day long, and passing that on to me,” Teets said. “That went on for a couple of years.”

Quickly, the fund was bringing steadily increasing amounts of donations — from $968 in 1957, to $982.75 in 1958, $1,022 in 1959 and $1,205.28 in 1960.

To ensure that the delivery of food went as smoothly as possible, Teets created a system of organization that is still in place today. He mapped out addresses of all of the families who would receive baskets, and broke those into easy-to-follow routes that individual volunteers would then deliver to.

Volunteers who were delivering the food received a reserved time slot to come in and get the assigned number of baskets.

One of the most significant improvements Teets made was helping involve more children to increase the items in the baskets.

“We had only one school helping at that time, plus whatever kids brought (to the Artcraft Theatre) so they could see a movie for free,” he said.

In 1962, Teets visited the different elementary and junior high schools in Franklin. He stressed to administrators, teachers and students how important the fund was to the needy, including children in their own schools.

Slowly, more schools offered to help. By 1964, close to 1,300 canned goods were being contributed. That tradition has grown to be the main source of food for the baskets, Teets said.

“I started by talking to three or four of the county schools one year, and the next year added some more. At one point, we had nearly all the schools donating, and we still get a very strong support from them,” he said.

As more money and more food was coming into the fund, it made sense to expand the delivery to more areas of the county, Teets said.

This year, about 360 baskets will be delivered in Franklin, Bargersville and Trafalgar. The Johnson County Fraternal Order of Police will pass out around 240 baskets in Greenwood and Center Grove areas, and the Edinburgh Fire Department will distribute 200 in the southern part of the county.

“The reason we do it before Christmas is so they can have that food for the holidays,” Teets said. “We give a lot to the elderly, but we lean to accommodating families with children the most.”

Teets transitioned leadership of the fund to Bob Heuchan in 1993, stepping back to let another volunteer spearhead the effort. But he remains actively involved.

In his 60 years with the fund, Teets has only missed delivering one time — he was in the hospital one Christmas Eve day in the late 2000s, and couldn’t be out with the fellow volunteers getting the baskets to families.

The day was cold, icy and snowy.

“That was a terrible year. I remember looking out the window from the hospital, feeling sorry for everyone who had to get the job done,” he said.

Teets will be there again this year, providing the effort with his six decades worth of experience. Organizers don’t know what they’d do without his help.

“He plays a key role on delivery morning, still,” Heuchan said.

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: About 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 apply: Applications, both in Spanish and English, can be found in the Daily Journal today and on Dec. 2. To be considered for a basket, applications must be received by Dec. 8. For more information, call 317-736-1722.

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.

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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.