INDIANAPOLIS — It was during tough times after the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 that the Good Cheer Fund of Johnson County was launched to make sure no families in Franklin would go hungry during that Christmas season a century ago.
Now it’s 100 years and another pandemic later and the Good Cheer Fund is still looking to fill Christmas baskets this holiday season.
“We are starting to see the applications come in, they’re higher than they were in previous years, so the impact there is certainly substantial,” said Jake Sappenfield, Chairman of Good Cheer Johnson County. “Most years we get our canned goods from the schools but this year we had to suspend that.”
COVID-19 social restrictions and the current economic downturn have been challenges to charities across Central Indiana, but Sappenfield is confident the Good Cheer Fund Johnson County will raise the $40,000 it takes to fill 800 baskets with food.
“Most of our donors are individuals, and what I’ve seen time and time again, especially here on the south side in Johnson County, is our people take care of our neighbors,” said Sappenfield. “This is a tough time for a lot of people and people step up and we’re already starting to see that.”
The Lord’s Pantry at Anna’s House just west of downtown Indianapolis typically provides food to 180 families every Saturday.
Those numbers have grown by a third in the last few months.
“We’re not turning anyone away during this time,” said Anna’s House Founder Julie Molloy. “This year we’re seeing a lot more people come through and they’re coming from all over Indianapolis, not just the Stringtown/Haughville area, so of course our numbers have increased because our need has increased so greatly.”
Molloy said not only have the weekly dinners at Anna’s House been curtailed by COVID-19, so have the Lord’s Pantry’s annual fundraising events.
“Although we get our typical volunteers on Saturday, which is amazing, our ability to do our fundraising which keeps us going for the entire year has diminished to zero,” she said. “The need isn’t going to diminish anytime soon, even if COVID goes away tomorrow, that need is still gonna be there as people play catchup from all that they’ve lost this year.”
Molloy said federal government CARES Act food supplies have reduced pantry produce costs while she is hopeful Giving Tuesday donations will raise enough money for essential maintenance and site improvement costs associated with upgrading Anna’s House to handle the growing demand in need.
“Times are dark but I refuse to believe that people as a whole are dark people,” said Molloy. “I am amazed. We’re in a fabulous city and we have wonderful kind caring people and giving people in this city who understand and appreciate what we’re doing and keep us going just through their hearts.”
The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI tracked charitable giving from the start of the pandemic last spring.
“This has also been a time of incredible generosity,” said Associate Dean Dr. Una Osili. “We’ve seen Americans at all different levels of income really step up and help their neighbors and help friends in need and funders, corporations, foundations, have also increased their giving.”
Dr. Osili said charities and non-profits need to lean forward in social media and virtual contact to keep their supporters engaged during the pandemic and after.
“One lesson we learned from the Great Recession was that organizations that were able to engage their supporters even during these very difficult times were more equipped to bounce back to rebuild to be resilient during the crisis,” she said. “The economic fallout has become greater than crises in the past so many donors have actually shifted their giving to focus more on basic needs charities and that includes gifts of financial resources but we’re also seeing examples of in-kind giving.”
Dr. Osili said that while frontline charities distributing food and PPE supplies have benefited from donations during the pandemic, non-profits related to the arts have suffered without a product to place in front of the community.
“In this pandemic many of us feel like we cannot necessarily control what happens day-to-day,” she said, “but what we can do is make a difference where we are and, regardless of your economic circumstances, all of us have something to give.”