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Passing the torch in Greenwood

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Ensuring that every Good Cheer Fund basket is delivered throughout Johnson County each holiday season takes a monumental organizational effort.

Baskets have to be assembled with canned goods, fresh dairy products and a Christmas turkey. Delivery routes have to be mapped, volunteers must be coordinated, and a schedule of times has to be passed out to drivers.

For more than a quarter of a century, Kenny Swint has taken on the responsibility in Greenwood and northern Johnson County. But now it’s time for him to find someone to take his place.

Over the next two or three years, Swint will move to the background, allowing someone new to step into the role of directing delivery. Longtime Good Cheer Fund volunteer Doug Roller has been chosen as the replacement.

With a few years to learn the system, Roller will spend this holiday season shadowing Swint to learn the ins and outs of delivering 225 baskets to needy families.

“He’s always devoted so much energy and put so much time into it. I’m just trying to emulate him,” Roller said.

Though connected to the overall Good Cheer Fund, the Greenwood branch delivers independently from the rest of the county. The Fraternal Order of Police is provided with a list of names and addresses and the supplies to put together the baskets.

The weekend before Christmas, Swint receives enough canned goods, turkey and ham, eggs, milk, cheese and other fresh food to add to the delivery.

Swint, a retired Greenwood police officer, actually starting loading and filling baskets countywide as a 21-year-old new to the force. After a few years, he offered to start orchestrating the food drive in Greenwood to help Bob Heuchan, the co-chairman of the Good Cheer Fund at the time.

The FOP took up the cause as one of its charities and has championed it over the years.

Swint’s experience and the time he puts into it have been instrumental to its success, said Jake Sappenfield, the current Good Cheer Fund chairman.

“Kenny takes care of Greenwood. It’s about as simple as saying that,” he said. “We drop some canned goods off, but he takes care of the routes and where to deliver. His role in that community, he leads the charge.”

But Swint recognizes that it’s time for someone new to take over. He chose Roller because of his long involvement with the organization. His commitment to the community will be a boon for the Good Cheer Fund, Swint said.

Roller, a sergeant with the Greenwood Police Department, has been involved with the Good Cheer Fund since he was a child. He remembers bringing canned goods to school while he was in elementary school, and his family would make monetary donations to the fund.

After becoming a police officer and joining the FOP, he became a regular volunteer. His family pitches in by filling baskets the night before delivery and then delivering them to families the next morning.

During his time with the Good Cheer Fund, Roller said, he has been touched by the response that people have to the gifts of food. All of them are thankful, and many are elated to see someone show up with a surprise meal for them.

He’s also learned not to form preconceived notions about who he’s delivering to. One recent December, he had an address that he was sure had to be wrong. The home was in a nice neighborhood, and he figured there was no way this family had qualified for a basket.

But when he knocked on the door, the family living inside almost cried, they were so excited. Both parents had lost their jobs, and their savings were exhausted.

“When they opened the cabinets to put canned goods in there, the cabinets were bare. The kitchen was nearly empty,” he said. “We’ve really seen in the last few years that it doesn’t matter what subdivision they live in. If they need it, they need it.”

Swint had approached him last year about organizing the delivery at some point. Roller didn’t realize that would start immediately.

“I thought he meant some point in the future or sometime out on the horizon,” he said. “I was expecting it to be a little bit in the future.”

This year will be a learning experience for Roller. Instead of going out to deliver, he’ll be side-by-side with Swint at Our Lady of the Greenwood School, their organizational headquarters.

The two men have been having regular conversations, figuring out how Swint arranges everything and sorts through requests. Roller figures he’ll take voluminous notes, knowing that he’ll have to remember the process by the time Christmas 2013 rolls around.

“Knowing the tremendous thing he’s done, it’s intimidating,” Roller said. “When it goes well, you don’t realize what goes into it. And it always goes well with Kenny. I’ll try my best to fill his shoes.”

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