This was community generosity like nothing I’d ever seen.
When I started working at the Daily Journal in 2008, it was a tumultous year. Not four months into the job, record-breaking floods devestated the community, washing away people’s homes and possessions all over Johnson County.
At the same time, the country was plunged into a housing and financial crisis. More people lost their homes, their jobs and their savings.
People were hurting on a scale I’d never encountered before.
As the end of the year approached, I was put in charge of the paper’s annual Good Cheer Fund coverage. My first responsibility was learning what exactly the Good Cheer Fund was.
Through talking with others at the Daily Journal, and community leaders leading the effort, I found out that it was Johnson County’s annual food distribution program. Only later did I learn how much more it was.
The fund was founded in 1921 by Austin Flinn, a local funeral home owner, and the Franklin Evening Star. Ever since, local businesses and the Evening Star, then the Daily Journal, have helped spread the word ensure the community is fed.
Donations from the community are used to buy fresh food, such as produce, potatoes, meat, cheese and milk, as well as additional items to ensure families have food to eat for days after Christmas.
All of the food for the baskets come from non-perishable items collected by area schools, as well as the fresh food purchased and delivered in the days leading up to the distribution.
The longstanding tradition is at the core of Johnson County’s values.
Schools, churches and business leaders all work together to make the drive a success. Volunteers of all ages spend the night before the distribution to pack all of the food into baskets and paper bags.
Generations of families rise early in the morning on delivery day to canvas the county dropping off food. They meet for pre-dawn breakfast, and stay until all of the baskets — more than 900 of them last year — are given to the people who need them.
The tradition, the willingness to give both time, food and money, is woven into the fabric of Johnson County. Other places are generous with their fundraising, supporting massive efforts to lift up those in the most need.
But nowhere I’ve seen has such a coordinated effort — nor the enthusiam and excitement — the Good Cheer Fund does. It’s a shining example of community at a time when more and more seems to separate us.
Over the coming weeks, the Daily Journal will be accepting donations to the fund, while schoolchildren and local residents provide thousands of canned and boxed goods.
If you’re able to part — in any way possible — please do. You’ll be part of an 101-year-old tradition, one that only can be found in Johnson County.
Ryan Trares is a senior reporter and columnist for the Daily Journal. Send comments to [email protected]