Volunteers are essential in ensuring that the Good Cheer Fund food deliveries make it to the people who need it most.

People help collect the canned goods from schools, assemble each of the approximately 800 baskets to be distributed and drive them to people’s houses, in many cases on Christmas Eve. Many of those who donate their time do it year after year — making a tradition among families and groups of friends.

Most importantly for those who oversee the Good Cheer Fund effort, they know where to go, what time to show up and how to make sure every struggling family in Johnson County gets the food they need.

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Mike Carter was one of those volunteers.

“All you had to do was point him in the right direction, and off he went,” said Eddy Teets, who was chairman of the fund for 37 years. “He wouldn’t leave. He’d stay until the last basket was delivered.”

Carter helped with the fund for most of his adult life. He was ingrained in the entire process and became a trusted member of the Good Cheer team. His desire to help the community spawned an additional effort, From the Heart, which he founded with friends to provide Christmas gifts to other families.

Since his death in March, those who knew him have recalled his steady nature and generous spirit.

“There are people that you just count on to be there. He was a pillar,” said Bob Heuchan, who was chairman of the fund from 1992 to 2011.

Carter died March 9 at the age of 65. He was active with the Elks and American Legion, and his passion was helping the community, said Curt Buchanan, a Franklin resident who was close friends with Carter and volunteered alongside him.

“Everything good about this community, Mike understood. He was a very caring person,” he said.

Buchanan had been friends with Carter for more than 40 years, and for more than half of that, they served together as volunteers with the Good Cheer Fund.

Speaking to the Daily Journal for a story about the Good Cheer Fund in 1999, Mike Carter said, “Mostly, I got involved because I thought it was very good for the community. It was also a way for me to give back to people. It’s a real eye-opener. It takes your breath away to deliver baskets to people who are really needing something. Poverty is right here in your back yard. Good Cheer is a giving of the heart.”

Carter was involved in all aspects of the fund. He dropped off baskets at a majority of Johnson County schools so children could donate canned goods to the effort. After a few weeks, he’d be part of the team picking those now-full baskets back up.

He was always there at the Johnson County REMC putting baskets together the weekend before delivery, and then would load dozens of baskets into his truck and drop them off at the houses of needy families.

“In my mind, there are a few individuals who have made the Good Cheer Fund stable over all these years, and I consider Mike Carter to be one of these guys, without question,” Buchanan said.

Growing out of the Good Cheer effort was From the Heart, a campaign that Carter also was instrumental in forming. He, Buchanan and about 10 other friends all decided that during the holiday season, they’d chip in their own money to buy gifts for the less fortunate families on the Good Cheer Fund list.

They would buy toys, clothing and other gifts for 25 to 30 kids every year.

“With the deliveries we were doing, Mike wanted something to add to it for the children,” Buchanan said. “It’s a just a little thing we deiced to do ourselves.”

This year, Carter’s friends and family will gather to pitch in with the Good Cheer Fund like they always have. His sons, Derry and Bart, have followed in their father’s footsteps and are active in all aspects of the fund.

From the Heart also will provide toys to needy children, just like Carter would have wanted.

“Christmas is about giving, and the joy of giving is what the season is all about. There’s fulfillment during the holiday. That’s the way it is for me, and I’m sure Mike felt the same way,” Buchanan said.

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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.