Long-running Christmas tradition continues in Brownstown

BROWNSTOWN — Few local Christmas traditions can match one in Brownstown that has been delivering food and other items to those in need for nearly 100 years.

On Thursday and Friday of this past week, volunteers with Brownstown Christmas Cheer prepared and delivered 140 baskets of perishable and nonperishable food items along with bags of toiletries and other items to the less fortunate within the school district. Two hundred fruit baskets also were delivered.

The effort included students from all three schools within Brownstown Central Community School Corp.

According to the Dec. 23, 1931, edition of The Banner, volunteers with Brownstown Christmas Cheer Association prepared baskets and delivered nearly 75 filled with perishable and nonperishable food and clothing items.

The Methodist church parish served as the headquarters for the project, and eight trucks owned by firms and individuals were used to deliver the baskets. Each truck was assigned to one of the eight districts in which the town had been divided, and two Boy Scouts accompanied each truck, according to Fred Nuss.

Nuss, the general chairman, said the cooperation and help, which had been extended by all who were asked to give of their time, has given with great pleasure and made possible the carrying out of the extensive program of the cheer association.

That cooperation, which has continued over the past nine decades, continues today.

Members of the high school FFA chapter have been involved with Brownstown Christmas Cheer since at the least the early 1960s when Bob Myers was the adviser.

This year, those students were joined by some students from Nancy Manuel’s home economics classes at the high school.

Sophomore Cash Zumhingst, an FFA chapter member, said Friday morning that it was just great to be able to help out the community.

He spent the morning organizing the boxes of food for distribution at Brownstown Christian Church.

Junior Katelyn Salmon, who was with the group of home economics students, helped prepare the fruit baskets. She said the work wasn’t too hard, and a bonus was getting out of class for a little while Friday morning.

“I think it’s good to help people that need these things,” she said.

The high school students weren’t the only ones to help.

Students at Brownstown Central Middle School raised $5,900 to purchase toys for the campaign, and students at Brownstown Elementary School collected canned goods and nonperishable food items. Fourth grade students at the school also held a penny wars for the cause, and Rose Acre Farms donated the eggs and boxes for the food items.

Family bags of personal toiletries, shampoo, hair conditioner, perishable food, including meat, hot dogs, butter, milk, eggs and other items, and nonperishable food items, including sugar, cereal and canned goods, also were being distributed with the food, fruit baskets and toys.

In the past, the Christmas Cheer committee used to wrap the toys, but that was discontinued during the pandemic, committee member Staci Tharp said. Rolls of wrapping paper and tape are now included in the bags of toys given to those with families.

The effort costs a lot, and the Christmas Cheer committee relies on donations, Tharp said.

“We’ve been fortunate to get enough in donations that we can buy a lot of things,” she said.

Tharp said the committee has had a lot of members over the years. Besides herself, the most recent group includes Pam Thompson, Ann Cooper, Chris Boling and others.

“And we’ll take volunteers on Thursday and Friday each year,” she said.

The preparation and delivery of the boxes is always held on the last Thursday and Friday that Brownstown Central students are in class before Christmas break.

“Because we try to deliver when the kids are in school so we don’t deliver when they are home,” Tharp said.

The Christmas Cheer process begins each year when the committee sends letters to local businesses in early November asking for donations and any names of people who might need help.

“We talk to the school to see who all could use help, and then we get a list from the funeral homes of everybody who has lost a spouse,” Tharp said. “So we have different sources that we get information, and people will just call and say, ‘I need help this year.’”

Brownstown Central FFA Adviser Blake Hackman said he never has any trouble recruiting chapter members to help out.

“They actually enjoy it, and we stress community service,” he said. “I know it’s selfish, but it does make them feel good because they are actually giving instead of taking.”

Manuel’s home economics students were invited because they have been looking for a community service project, Hackman said.

Donations are accepted throughout the year and may be made by contacting the main office of The Peoples Bank at 812-358-4000. For information or assistance in future years, visit Brownstown Christmas Cheer’s Facebook page and leave a message.