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The Good Neighbor Christmas Cheer Fund donations have come by way of a clown, delivered by a firefighter and in honor of pets. 

The 81st annual Cheer Fund campaign kicked off Wednesday night at the Hammond Optimist Club holiday dinner in Schererville where the group raised $4,156.31. The campaign raises money to give grocery store vouchers to Northwest Indiana families. 

The Cheer Fund was started in the 1930s when a Hammond contractor gave $500 to the police chief to distribute to residents during the holidays.

John Gescheidler, who manages the fund with his son, said their goal is to raise at least $25,000.

The Times will run coupons starting Monday for the Cheer Fund for people to fill out and return with donations. Gescheidler said donors also can make donations through PayPal by going to www.hammondnational.com and scrolling to the bottom of the page.

People also can send donations to The Times, at 601 45th Ave., Munster, IN 46321. Checks must be made payable to the Good Neighbor Christmas Cheer Fund. 

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The vouchers, which can be used at grocery stores throughout Northwest Indiana, are distributed by The Salvation Army Hammond/Munster Corps to families throughout the region.

Gescheidler and his family have been involved in the fund since the 1930s. He said his grandchildren help him sort some of the mailed in donations, meaning a fourth generation of his family helps with the fund. 

"We get some really nice letters," Gescheidler said. "They just melt your heart, they make you feel so good."

Gescheidler said in recent years more people are making donations in honor of their pets. They've received donations in names of everything from a leopard tortoise to cats.

He said there is also always a memorable donation by a mysterious donor that goes by Grandpa Claus of north Hammond. The donor once asked a firefighter to deliver the donation using a fire engine, another time a clown made the delivery and last year the donation was made on the day the world was supposed to end according to the Mayan calendar. 

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