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Thompson luncheon among city’s most successful charity events

More than $200 a second, or $13,333.33 per minute. That’s how much Thompson Child & Family Focus raised in just one hour last year during an annual event that has emerged as the king of Charlotte charity luncheons.

Wednesday marks the 11th year of the event, and predictions are that its 620 attendees will give more than $600,000 in the span of 60 minutes.

All that from a free meal of grilled chicken and pasta salad.

It’s not the only such luncheon held each year, but the Thompson affair is the one that – minute for minute – typically brings in the most money.

Donors confess they can’t help but give.

“It’s so amazingly moving when you hear the stories of children whose lives were changed and how it impacted everyone around them,” said Anne Sinsheimer, who will attend this year’s luncheon at the Westin Hotel.

Money raised at affair goes toward Thompson’s mission of helping at-risk children, including those who have mental illnesses stemming from early childhood traumas. Agency officials say it helps 16,000 children and families annually.

This year, the event will feature the tale of a boy named Michael, who was abused and became an accomplished thief by the age 11. Social workers responded by cutting pockets out of his pants, so he couldn’t hide things.

“I couldn’t believe anybody would do that. It was awful,” recalled Wendy Hall, 41, who was enlisted by Thompson to be the boy’s foster mom. “But after two weeks, I clipped those pockets right out again. We couldn’t lay anything down. He’d take it.”

The family remained patient, and the boy eventually stopped stealing and lying, said Hall.

In December, he was adopted by a family in Tennessee, and more than 100 people came to his going-away party, Hall said.

Such stories have helped Thompson raise nearly $7 million at past luncheons, using a fundraising model that has it trying to win fans before seeking their money.

Alexander Youth Network, the Children’s Home Society of North Carolina and the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte are among the other area charities that use the same model.

The Thompson event typically raises the most – an average of $700,000 to $800,000 annually – perhaps because the agency dates to 1886.

The money is critical at a time when Thompson is caring for 61 percent more children than it was five years ago, officials said. The agency’s annual budget is $17.7 million, including $1.5 million given by individual donors such as those who attend the luncheon.

“We want people to feel inspired by our mission, and we hope they’re inspired to give,” said Thompson staff member Shannon Hinson.

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