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Chiquita steps up to help United Way kick off annual campaign

A year after moving its headquarters to Charlotte, Chiquita Brands is making good on a pledge to be involved in the community by naming United Way a key beneficiary of its charitable efforts, including the ongoing Chiquita Classic golf tournament.

The announcement came Thursday as part of United Way’s annual campaign kick off, which this year set a goal of $21.4 million for its 80-plus member charities. That is a 1.1 percent increase over last year’s campaign.

Chiquita CEO Ed Lonergan helped launch the fundraiser with a $100,000 check and promised more money as proceeds are tallied from the tournament, now being held at River Run Country Club in Davidson.

The company also plans to introduce an annual corporate United Way campaign for its employees, as well as encouraging more staff volunteerism at the agencies supported by United Way, he said.

“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 has raised $600,000 for charity since it’s inception in 2010. One hundred percent of all money raised at the event goes to charity.

Lonergan noted the tournament was among the company activities considered for cuts when Chiquita 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. So it would be disingenuous if we chose to do something different….It’s part of the promises we made to Charlotte.”

No one was more pleased to hear of Lonergan’s commitment to Charlotte than United Way Executive Director Jane McIntyre.

She pointed out at the campaign launch that her office is directly across from the new Chiquita headquarters, and that she had sent staff over to try and win corporate support.

The Thursday even also included a $49,000 check from another of the agency’s uptown neighbor’s, AT&T.

“Its 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. “I heard that when he got to Charlotte, he found out Chiquita was not engaged with United Way just down the street and told them: ‘That’s got to change.’”

This represents the third year that United Way has set a small “more easily achievable” goal for its campaign, officials said. The annual fund raiser 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.

The campaign goal has increased collectively about 7.5 percent over the past three years, McIntyre said.

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