Good-hearted Good Fellows and Good Friends poised to raise record numbers to help needy families

dperlmutt@charlotteobserver.comDecember 10, 2013 

In mere minutes this week, a couple thousand good-hearted people will sit down to lunch and raise nearly $600,000 to help Charlotte families in need.

Wednesday, the all-male Good Fellows Club, seeded in 1917 by a men’s church group, will sit down first in a giant ballroom at noon at the Charlotte Convention Center. Even before the doors open, the club received a record 1,350 advanced reservations.

Club President Frank Dowd said the room will be set for the maximum 1,500 seats and, with walk-ins, he expects all of them to be filled. Dowd’s “stretch goal” is to break the $400,000 mark in giving – nearly $50,000 more than was raised at last year’s record event.

On Thursday, in the same ballroom, the Fellows’ all-female counterparts, the Good Friends club, will take their turn also at noon. Last year, the Friends raised nearly $157,000, and luncheon chair Joanne O’Brien Beam hopes to raise as much as $170,000 – or more.

Every dime raised will go in 2014 to help working families who aren’t eligible for help from other charities or agencies.

Record attendance

The record attendance is a product of both clubs working hard to draw younger members. The massive giving is more difficult to explain, with the fading recession still influencing the economy.

“People have grown sick and tired of not being able to do this kind of giving because it was tough during the recession,” O’Brien Beam said. “There seems to be more philanthropic participation as the economy improves.”

If Dowd’s Fellows meet his goal, it will nearly double the club’s take in 2010, at the height of the recession, with about $240,000 raised.

Last year, it raised more than $352,000, a 28percent jump from the year before. Dowd said Charlotte is a generous city “with a lot of generous people.”

The programs at both luncheons will include stories of how the money helps.

In recent years, Good Friends had met at the diminutive and creaky Grady Cole Center to save money on rent so more could go to people who need it.

But last year, the growing membership filled up the facility and they decided to move back to the convention center and share costs with Good Fellows, O’Brien Beam said. “We were just splitting at the seams,” she said. “The convention center is working with both organizations on costs.”

Yearly dues ($85 for Good Fellows; $65 for Good Friends) pay for the luncheons and administrative offices.

Millions raised

The stories of the clubs’ beginnings are a source of pride in Charlotte.

Good Fellows, a club of 1,700 business and civic leaders, started 97 Christmases ago in a men’s Sunday school class at Second Presbyterian Church. It has evolved into a charity that has raised millions to serve the working poor who often “fall between the cracks at other good agencies,” Dowd said.

The club always included women at its luncheons, but until recently they had to sit in the back – at one point behind a curtain.

That upset many women, and in 1987 they started an all-female version of Good Fellows. Their first luncheon, on Dec. 8 that year, drew 415 women with a goal of raising $16,000. They raised $32,205.

Now the Friends have passed $2.5 million in totals raised and are sure to hit $3 million in a few years.

Perlmutt: 704-358-5061

The Lake Wylie Pilot is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service