In the spacious storage area of Johnson County REMC, ham, eggs, milk and other fresh food have been packed up, ready to be passed out to needy families.

More than 35,000 canned goods have been collected from area schools to supplement that food. Delivery routes have been plotted, and volunteers have been given their assignments.

Today, about 800 households will receive a Good Cheer Fund basket full of enough food for a Christmas dinner and meals for days after the holiday. Organizers have been working for months to put it together, and hundreds of volunteers have given time to fill and deliver the baskets.

After receiving more calls for help this year than ever before, those involved with the fund have seen how badly some families are struggling this year. At the same time, the community has responded fully.

As of Friday morning, donations to the fund had reached $31,660. The fund hadn’t received that much in any of the past five years.

“This is what Christmas is really about. You know you’re making an impact on a lot of families in this community,” said Jake Sappenfield, chairman of the Good Cheer Fund. “We get up early and know that we’re helping a lot of folks today, and that’s a great feeling. That’s why we have so many volunteers who do this every year.”

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.

Greenwood and the Center Grove area received the first round of Good Cheer baskets on Dec. 16. The 265 baskets delivered marked the most that had ever been passed out in that part of the county, Sappenfield said.

The rest of the county will receive baskets today.

During the past week, Sappenfield has taken final inventory of the applications that have been received from the community and determined which households will receive baskets.

“We’ve had a lot more applications than we have baskets to give out, so we’re trying to figure out prioritization of deliveries, then communicating with the people on the alternate list to let them know the situation,” he said.

He also has checked to make sure the food order for the fresh groceries is correct and they have enough bread, meat, cheese and produce to give each house.

Figuring out the delivery routes is one of the final responsibilities, matching the volunteers who have signed up to pass out baskets with the families receiving them.

The Good Cheer Fund hotline continued to receive calls up until deliveries were made, with people asking if they’ll be getting a basket, letting organizers know that their address has changed and requesting help for the holidays if they’re not on the Good Cheer Fund list.

“I make it a point to respond to every single one,” Sappenfield said.

While more and more people have been asking for help this year, the community has rallied to help fund the effort. By Friday afternoon, donations had reached $31,660. On Dec. 22 last year, the amount was $20,079.

People who still want to support the Good Cheer Fund can donate through the end of 2017 at the Daily Journal, or any time throughout the year at the fund’s PO box, Sappenfield said.

The bill for the meat, dairy, bread and other groceries for the baskets comes in at about $40,000 each year. Sappenfield makes sure that the fund has between $20,000 and $25,000 going into the next year, to provide a foundation for the following year’s deliveries.

“That ensures us year to-year that the fund is going to happen,” he said.

Any additional donations that leave the fund with more of a surplus than that is donated to other efforts to relieve hunger in the community, such as the Interchurch Food Pantry.

“We don’t just keep a lot of money in our account. We’ll seek out other organizations who are working with people to solve that hunger issue,” Sappenfield 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 535 baskets will be delivered today throughout Johnson County. Volunteers delivered 265 baskets to Greenwood and the Center Grove 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.

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