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Baskets full of good cheer; Volunteers to deliver donations

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Over a 24-hour period, the members of the Johnson County Fraternal Order of Police will experience the busiest time of their year.

Thousands of canned goods, boxes of pasta and bags of dried beans need to be sorted into piles and divided into 225 food baskets for the Good Cheer Fund. Pounds of ham, milk and eggs have to be unloaded and added to each delivery.

Then, the next morning, each box will be delivered to the homes of needy families in the Greenwood and Center Grove areas. And at some point, most of the members will take part in the annual Shop with a Cop event, too.

The flurry of activity can be exhausting. But to those involved, it’s something to look forward to, not a chore.

“It is hard, but it’s an opportunity for us,” said Doug Roller, Good Cheer Fund organizer for the Fraternal Order of Police. “There are a lot of times that we encounter people at the time of need. But it’s usually not a need like hunger. We get to address a need that we don’t always get to see.”

Groups such as the Fraternal Order of Police are an integral part of making the Good Cheer Fund work in Johnson County. While volunteers are important at every step of the food giveaway process, the work of these organizations has become the engine that drives the process.

Without them, there is no way the Good Cheer Fund could feed 775 families, chairman Jake Sappenfield said.

How to help

If you would like to donate to the Good Cheer Fund, you still have time.

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 2575 N. Morton St., Franklin, IN 46131.

For more information, call 736-1722.

“It takes a lot of people to pull this off. Those groups not only supply volunteers, they supply people who are enthusiastic about the cause,” he said. “They understand that their efforts and dollars are going right back into the community that they live and work in.”

The Good Cheer Fund is an annual effort to collect money to provide food for the hungry in Johnson County. In the days before Christmas, volunteers will distribute 350 baskets throughout Franklin, Bargersville and Trafalgar. The Fraternal Order of Police will pass out 225 in the northern part of the county, and the Edinburgh Fire Department will pass out 200 in the southern portion.

Donations from the community are used to buy fresh goods, such as eggs, milk, bread and a Christmas ham, while canned goods collected by local schools supplement the baskets. Every year, schools contribute about 35,000 canned goods to the cause, providing more than half the items eventually given away to needy families in the county.

Helping has been a tradition for the Franklin Community Middle School student council for decades.

Nearly every school day this month, student council members have arrived early each morning. They have visited each room in the school before classes start, gathering up baskets of canned goods that other students have brought in.

The goal this year was to bring in 7,500 cans, said Walt Raines, dean of students at the school.

“We really talk it up each day and approach it from a standpoint that we’re helping others,” he said. “We ask them to see what they have and see what they can share. Anything we can do to share it with someone else, we really need to help them to do that.”

To build excitement, the student council makes posters and daily announcements about the drive. Contests among academic groups fosters a spirit of friendly competition, with the group that can bring in the most food getting a prize, such as a pizza party or ice cream.

The efforts are flashy, and the students have fun with the canned food drive, Raines said. But from what he’s seen, all of the students understand the importance of what they do without needing a pizza party to motivate them.

“One of the big reasons is, we want to help all of our kids. We have some of the kids in our building, it’s their families who will benefit from this,” he said. “Whatever we can do to help our kids to make this time a little better and easier for them, the students want to help do that.”

Other schools get involved as well. Clark-Pleasant Intermediate School hosts a pre-Thanksgiving food drive to provide a base for the Good Cheer Fund baskets. Center Grove Elementary School ties admission to its end-of-school dance to providing food for the fund.

Indian Creek High School’s FFA program sells pork chops to raise money for the baskets. Then, on the morning of Christmas Eve, the group volunteers to distribute them.

The Johnson County Fraternal Order of Police has been handling delivery to the northern part of the county for more than 30 years, Roller said. Participating in the effort has become a point of pride for the members, and they often recruit family and friends to caravan through Greenwood and the Center Grove area to drop off the food.

Most of the members sign up every year due to the impact they see the baskets have, he said.

Roller recalled one year when he volunteered to deliver. The route he was given included an address in a neighborhood that he knew was upscale and well-off. His first reaction was annoyance, that this family couldn’t need the food as much as others on the list.

That impression changed when he pulled up to the address and rang the doorbell. The family inside was struggling to put any food on their table. Both parents had been laid off that year. The bank was weeks away from foreclosing on their house.

When they opened their cupboards, each was completely bare. The refrigerator had only a little bit of milk in it.

“They didn’t have anywhere else to go. They were very appreciative,” Roller said. “That was the last time I judged before seeing. Sometimes you may not know if a neighbor is hurting.”

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