A year after moving its headquarters to Charlotte, Chiquita Brands has made good on a pledge to be involved in the community by naming United Way a key beneficiary of its charitable efforts – including the Chiquita Classic golf tournament now underway.
The announcement came Thursday as part of United Way’s annual campaign kickoff, which this year set a goal of $21.4 million for its 80-plus member charities. That’s a 1.1 percent increase over last year’s campaign.
Chiquita CEO Ed Lonergan helped launch the fundraiser with a corporate check for $100,000, which is what has been raised so far by the Chiquita Classic. Lonergan promised more money as proceeds are tallied from the tournament, being held at River Run Country Club in Davidson.
The company also plans to introduce an annual corporate United Way campaign for its employees, he said, as well as encourage more staff volunteerism at the agencies supported by United Way.
“And I want 100 percent participation,” Lonergan said. “I don’t care how much they give, but I want them to be in a pattern of contributing to a better community.
“United Way is a brilliant path to get money from people that have it to donate to the agencies that need it, agencies that with very little money can make a big difference in the lives of people.”
The Chiquita Classic, which is being held in the Charlotte area for the second year, has raised $600,000 for charity since its inception in 2010. Last year’s big recipient was the national office of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. United Way is the primary beneficiary this year, as part of Lonergan’s desire to keep the money in local hands.
He noted the tournament was among many things Chiquita considered cutting when the company went through a financial restructuring in the past year. However, he resisted ending the tournament, calling it “our Charlotte event.”
“We made a choice to move our corporate headquarters to Charlotte, and we said we wanted to be part of the community,” Lonergan said. “So it would be disingenuous if we chose to do something different… . It’s part of the promises we made to Charlotte.”
United Way Executive Director Jane McIntyre pointed out that her office is directly across from the new Chiquita headquarters, and that she had sent staff over to try and win corporate support.
Thursday’s campaign launch also included a $49,000 check from another of the agency’s uptown neighbors, AT&T.
‘Music to your ears’
“It’s music to your ears when you find out that the CEO of a new company likes United Way and understands what we do,” McIntyre said of Lonergan.
This represents the second year that United Way has set a small “more realistic” goal for its campaign, officials said. The annual fundraiser suffered setbacks during the economic downturn, forcing the agency to make cuts to its member charities and dip into its reserve fund. This past year, it took about $1 million from reserves.
United Way successfully met its campaign goal the past two years.
In addition to the tournament’s support of United Way, Chiquita is offering a “Charity Ticket Program” that allows other Charlotte-area nonprofits to sell tournament tickets and keep 100 percent of the sales for their charity. More than 50 nonprofits participated this year.