For the past 96 years, the Good Cheer Fund has helped provide Johnson County families in need with food at Christmastime.

More people are asking for help this year than ever before.

Even during recessions and times of financial difficulty in the county, organizers of the annual food giveaway have never received as many requests as they have this year, chairman Jacob Sappenfield said.

“It’s more than we’ve ever seen, and we really don’t know why,” he said.

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More than 1,000 households have flooded the Good Cheer Fund with requests for food baskets, well above the number of applications submitted in previous years. Organizers are still fielding calls of people asking for help, Sappenfield said.

The deadline to ask for help has passed; the first baskets are being delivered this weekend in Greenwood.

The influx has left those in charge of the Good Cheer Fund searching for ways to provide assistance to as many people as possible this holiday season, and that makes the contributions from the community even more vital, Sappenfield said.

So far, $11,262 has been given to the fund. The community typically donates about $25,000 each December.

“We’re looking for the possibility of making some adjustments to help service the need, but you need money to do that,” he said.

The Good Cheer Fund is a Johnson County holiday tradition dating back to 1921. Baskets are delivered to local households in need and contain fresh food such as ham, chicken, eggs and cheese for Christmas dinner. In addition, the deliveries include enough canned and non-perishable food so people can eat for days after the holiday.

The first round of deliveries will take place Saturday in Greenwood and the Center Grove area. The rest of the county will receive baskets the morning of Dec. 24.

The bill for the meat, dairy, bread and other groceries for the baskets comes in at about $40,000 each year. Other items, including 35,000 canned and non-perishable goods such as peanut butter, soup and pasta, are all donated by the community.

“Knowing what the bill will be for the food alone, we need to make sure we’re prepared for that,” Sappenfield said.

Low donations will not have an immediate impact on the plans to deliver 800 baskets this year, Sappenfield said. The Good Cheer Fund board plans on keeping a cushion of savings in the account of between $20,000 and $25,000 going into January. That allows Sappenfield to plan throughout the year based on the reserves.

Donations are actually up at this point from the past two years. In 2016, only $2,242 had been given to the fund on Dec. 12. People had given $5,432 at this point in 2015.

Still, in order to reach that comfortable level in preparing for the following year, donations are vital.

That is particularly important considering how many more people are requesting help, Sappenfield said. Though the deadline for applications was Dec. 8, people are still calling asking if they can take part.

Sappenfield isn’t sure for the reason behind the influx of applications. One thought is that county schools are working more closely with needy families and passing on the Good Cheer information.

Another is that agencies such as the United Way of Johnson County are making sure impoverished people know how to apply. In addition, as the county grows in population, that will include more people in need of assistance.

Good Cheer organizers may have some ability to adjust slightly and add a few more baskets for families this Christmas season. Again, that all comes down to the donations that they’re able to collect from the community, Sappenfield said.

With Christmas approaching, Sappenfield expects that donations will pick up considerably. History has shown that the closer the holiday gets, the more donors send in their checks.

“We expect most of it to come in over the next week or so,” Sappenfield said. “It’ll be more on people’s minds.”

Where to get help

Applications are no longer being accepted for the Good Cheer Fund, but a number of resources are still available for families needing help this holiday season.

Here is a listing of local food pantries in the county and when they are open:

» CARE Food Pantry

Location: 2911 S. Morgantown Road, Greenwood

Hours: 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Friday when Center Grove schools are in session.

Eligibility: Recipients must provide photo ID as well as proof of residence in Johnson County. Recipients may visit the pantry once a month.

Donations: Food and toiletries are accepted when school is in session from 9 to 11 a.m. Fridays. For large donations, call the office to arrange a time for drop-off.

Information: 317-885-5242

» Christ United Methodist Church Food Pantry

Location: 8540 U.S. 31 South, Indianapolis

Hours: 9 to 11 a.m. Thursday.

Eligibility: Marion County residents and Johnson County residents who have 46142 and 46143 area codes.

Information: 317-882-1549

» Great Harvest Food Pantry — Grace Assembly of God

Location: 6822 U.S. 31 North, New Whiteland

Hours: 2 to 4 p.m. or 5 to 7 p.m. alternating Thursdays; 9 to 11 a.m. last Saturday of the month.

Information: 317-535-5640

» His Hand Extended Food and Clothing Pantry

Location: Trinity broadcasting, 2528 U.S. 31 South, Greenwood

Hours: 10 a.m. Thursday; a devotional service follows sign-in.

Eligibility: Services available to residents of Johnson, Morgan, Monroe, Jennings, Shelby and Bartholomew counties. A photo ID is required. Limited to first 30 households each week.

Donations: Non-perishable food items, clothing and small household items may be dropped off 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Information: 317-535-5542

» Interchurch Food Pantry of Johnson County

Location: 211 Commerce Drive, Franklin

Hours: Noon to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday; 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday.

Donations: Accepted during hours of operation.

Eligibility: Recipients must provide proof of residence in Johnson County; clients may visit twice per month.

Information: 317-736-5090, pantryjcmanager@gmail.com.

Johnson County Senior Services

Location: 731 S. State St., Franklin.

Hours: Individuals may call to place a food request and their order may be picked up the next business day. Office hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Donations may be delivered during business hours.

Information: 317-738-4544

» Mount Pleasant Christian Church Impact Center

Location: 381 N. Bluff Road, Greenwood

Hours: Clients must be in the building during the following sign-in times: 9:15 to 9:40 a.m., 12:15 to 12:40 p.m., 6:15 to 6:40 p.m. Thursdays; and 9:15 to 9:40 a.m. Saturdays. Devotion and prayer will be shared prior to shopping at all client service times. Households may receive food one time per week and clothing one time per month.

Donations: Items may be dropped off 9 a.m. to noon Monday and Tuesday, 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday and 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday.

Eligibility: Adults — photo ID and two pieces of mail with the current address; dependents under age 18 — birth certificate or Social Security card.

Information: 317-889-9650

» Lord’s Locker

Location: 101 S. Pleasant St., Trafalgar

Open: Wednesday: 9 to 11 a.m. for senior citizens (over 60 only; clients must be in the building by 9:30 a.m. to receive food). 1 p.m. for heads of household (clients 40 to 59 years; must be in the building by 1:30 p.m. to receive food). Thursday: 6 p.m. for heads of household (ages 20 to 39 years; must be in the building by 6:30 p.m. to receive food). Devotion and prayer will be followed by food distribution and shopping.

Donations: Accepted 9 a.m. to noon Monday and Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday and 9 a.m. to noon the third Saturday of every month.

Eligibility: All new clients will be interviewed and evaluated for Strategies of Success programming. Clients will receive prayer and biblical counseling and other aid, such as job search help. Potential new clients can interview from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays and 5 to 8 p.m. Thursdays. Potential clients should bring a photo ID; Social Security numbers for the head of household, spouse and children under 18; a current paid receipt of a utility, rent or mortgage with current address (P.O. boxes not accepted). The photo IDs will be required with each visit. Services will only be offered to residents of Johnson, Morgan and Brown counties. Non-residents will be given a list of other places to go for help.

Information: 317-878-7708

» New Life Fellowship Church of God

Location: 720 Main St., Whiteland.

Open: 10 a.m. to noon the second Saturday of each month.

Information: 317-535-7325, whitelandnewlifecog.com

» Our Lady of the Greenwood

Location: 335 S. Meridian St., Greenwood

Open: 11 a. m. to 2 p. m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, except when Parish office is closed.

Donations: Patrons can make donations at the red cart inside the back door of the church between 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Call the church for large donations.

Eligibility: Recipients must provide proof of residence with photo ID and must be income-qualified depending on household size.

Information: 317-888-2861

» The Refuge

Location: 65 Airport Parkway, Suite 114, Greenwood

Open: 9 to 11 a.m. Tuesday, 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday.

Donations: Accepted during office or pantry hours

Eligibility: All residents living in Johnson County may visit once per month.

Information: 317-889-7338

» SS. Francis & Clare Parish Harvest

Location: 5901 Olive Branch Road, Greenwood

Open: 9 a.m. to noon on the second and fourth Saturday of the month; 10 a.m. to noon second Wednesday of each month; 5 to 7 p.m. fourth Monday of the month.

Donations: Donations can be brought from 9 a.m. to noon the second and fourth Saturday.

Eligibility: All residents of Johnson and Morgan counties may visit the pantry once a month. Recipients must bring proof of residency and a picture ID.

Information: 317-859-4673

» The Salvation Army Food Pantry

Location: 325 Market Plaza, Greenwood

Open: 12:30 to 2:45 p.m., Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Eligibility: Clients must be Johnson County residents and must bring the following information to receive help: proof of address; picture ID, and proof of income meeting federal poverty guidelines for assistance for everyone over the age of 18. Clients may visit the pantry every 60 days and provide information listed above each time they visit.

Information: Contact Ricky Hayes at the times listed above, 881-2505.

» Share ‘n’ Care Food Pantry

Location: 200 Sunset Blvd., Greenwood

Open: Noon and 3 p.m. Friday. Pantry also is closed during the winter in case of inclement weather. Closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Eligibility: All clients must present a Social Security card, driver’s license and proof of residency.

Information: 317-881-5743

» The Social of Greenwood

Location: 550 Polk St., Greenwood

Open: 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesday and 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Thursday (closed every third Thursday) 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Friday

Eligibility: Anyone over age 50 with photo ID. Visits limited to once per week per household.

Information: 882-4810, thesocialofgreenwood.org

» St. Timothy Episcopal Church

Location: 2601 E. Thompson Road, Indianapolis

Open: 10 a.m. to noon and 6 to 8 p.m. the third Tuesday of every month.

Eligibility: Picture ID is required.

Information: 317-784-6925

» Trinity Broadcasting Network

Location: 2528 U.S. 31 South, Greenwood

Open: To receive food, you must arrive between 10 and 11 a.m. on Thursday; only first 30 people will be able to receive food.

Information: 317-535-5542

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 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.