For days, Frank Dowd fretted about the cold and rainy, gray skies that gripped Charlotte.
Dowd is president of the all-male Good Fellows Club, the affluent charity that has gathered for 97 Decembers to raise mountains of money to help the working poor during the coming year.
He knew bad weather would keep members away from Wednesday’s luncheon, and that would translate into disappointing numbers.
“I’ve been doing a lot of praying for the sun to come out,” Dowd said.
Sure enough, Wednesday’s sun shone handsomely, drawing a record crowd of Good Fellows (about 1,480 men) to a packed-in Charlotte Convention Center ballroom. They dug deeper than ever before, nearly breaking the $400,000 milestone with a record $397,135.92.
Last year, Dowd had a “stretch goal” of $300,000 and the club raised more than $352,000, a huge jump from the previous year. Wednesday, he challenged the club to raise $400,000.
He was disappointed they fell short at the lunch. Yet in the past, the club continued to receive donations through December, so reaching the milestone is likely.
Dowd was delighted with the haul.
“We still had a good increase,” he said. “We just had such a big jump last year and I was a little nervous that it was an aberration.
“It wasn’t, and that makes me feel great. That money is going to help a lot of people who need it.”
Because of the size of the crowd, it took longer for the dozen “bag boys” – including Gov. Pat McCrory – 10 minutes to collect the loot. That’s $39,700 a minute. Every dime will go to help families. The club’s yearly $85 dues pays for the lunch and administrative office.
Much of the money ($288,045 this year) goes to pay rent or mortgages for families facing eviction. About $51,000 was spent this year to keep the power on for families.
Club makes a difference
Good Fellows, with 1,700 members, started making a difference in 1917, when the men’s Sunday school class at Second Presbyterian Church started the charity as a project.
Wednesday’s collection came after Charlotte Police Chief Rodney Monroe and Duke Energy Chairman Jim Rogers illustrated how the club will help 1,400 families in 2014.
Monroe told the crowd about the Baker family.
The chief said he was struck by the father’s “determination to be a provider.” But he was an “ex-offender” and couldn’t get a job until he got involved with Jacob’s Ladder Job Center Inc., a job-training nonprofit that helps the unemployed get work.
“He faced many challenges due to the mistakes he’d made in the past,” Monroe said.
By the time the father found work, his family of four children faced eviction and he couldn’t afford the required steel-toe boots for his job.
So Good Fellows helped the Bakers with rent. And the father and Page Johnson, the club’s director of family services, went shopping for boots.
Rogers told them about another family of three children facing eviction.
Both parents were working, until the wife, a former Marine, was diagnosed with lupus.
“She couldn’t finish school, she couldn’t work and had difficulty taking care of the children,” Rogers said. “This is a family that plays by the rules and does all the right things in the pursuit of the American dream. ... Their world gets turned upside down.”
The club paid the rent.
“Good Fellows made a difference for good people who had fallen on hard times,” he said.
‘Hard turn to the right’
As the bag boys worked the crowd, developers Johnny Harris and Pete Pappas continued a luncheon tradition, entertaining the crowd with N.C. and Charlotte-flavored humor.
Harris asked the governor if he’d help the bag boys “fill the bags.” McCrory made an offer to the crowd: “Whoever gives the biggest donation, I’ve baked a special plate of politically incorrect chocolate chip cookies.”
Then McCrory asked Harris if he knew how to get to the governor’s mansion in Raleigh.
“You take (Interstate) 85 to I-40 and when you get to Raleigh, you take a hard turn to the right.”
They poked fun at news that uptown’s Charlotte Observer building could be sold, musing that Carolinas HealthCare System plans “to drop a chunk of change” to keep the newspaper from becoming “The Suburban Observer.”
Harris said the city was abuzz with the NBA Hornets name and colors returning to Charlotte, but cautioned: “Don’t get too excited. We all know from past experiences that Shinn happens,” a poke at former Hornets owner George Shinn who took the Hornets to New Orleans.
About the controversy over an authority running Charlotte Douglas International Airport, Harris said the city and an airport oversight committee can’t get together because “everyone’s stuck in long-term parking Lot 5.”
“In fact, Johnny,” Pappas added, “they changed the airport code from CLT to OMG, Oh My Gosh.”
‘This is a good charity’
In the crowd were the Dalton brothers – Bob, 92, and Rufus, 89.
Both are longtime Good Fellows, Bob the longest. He joined in 1947, a year after he returned from fighting in France during World War II. Rufus joined in 1965.
Bob Dalton told his father, Bob Sr., he wanted to tag along to that meeting and he’s been coming ever since.
It kicks off his holiday.
“When you hear these stories, that’s all you need,” Bob Dalton said. “This is a good charity. It’s been helping a lot of people who need it, for a long time.”
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