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 mens 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. Dowds stretch goal is to break the $400,000 mark in giving nearly $50,000 more than was raised at last years 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 OBrien Beam hopes to raise as much as $170,000 or more.
Every dime raised will go in 2014 to help working families who arent eligible for help from other charities or agencies.
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, OBrien Beam said. There seems to be more philanthropic participation as the economy improves.
If Dowds Fellows meet his goal, it will nearly double the clubs 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, OBrien 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.
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 mens 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.