To see coverage of Wednesday's Good Fellows luncheon, click here.
Every year, Charlotte’s men and women gather for two luncheons in downtown Charlotte. And somewhere between appetizers and desserts, they raise enough money to help thousands of needy area families for a year.
Good Fellows, a local men’s charity group, and Good Friends, the female counterpart, call upon their members once a year to attend a December luncheon. Near the end, Santa Claus walks around the tables and asks for the members to make a donation, however big or small, to assist local families in need.
Good Fellows and Good Friends spread out that money throughout the year. Maybe it’s to help a family make the rent for that month, or to help another pay the electricity bill. Sometimes the need is a household appliance, such as a washer and dryer.
Together, the Charlotte philanthropic groups are known for their hefty holiday season fundraising. The all-male Good Fellows, founded in 1917 and made up of professional, business and civic leaders, have raised nearly $2 million in just the last seven years. Good Friends, the all-women’s group modeled after the fellows, raised nearly $2.5 million since starting in 1987.
“It started because Good Fellows wanted to help people not being helped by other organizations,” says Carla Parks, director of administration and event planning for Good Fellows. “We generally help the working poor. Usually they’re down on their luck for some unforeseen reason like a medical emergency. Lately it’s been people who’ve been laid off.” Parks works alongside Page Johnson, the director of family services for Good Fellows, to get help to needy families. The purchases throughout the year don’t usually exceed $200. But for a needy family, that can make a world of difference.
“One time we helped a very young mother who was pregnant and getting ready to give birth. She was putting the child up for adoption and she wanted her child to have a very nice outfit to go home in,” says Polly Needham, distribution coordinator for Good Friends. “She also wanted to get a family Bible to go home with the child. It didn’t require a lot of money – maybe $40 – but it was a situation I’ve never forgotten. It was very touching.”Tight times
With the economic climate stubbornly refusing to bounce back as quickly as many would have hoped, more organizations are calling on Good Friends and Good Fellows to help needy families. But some donations are falling.
Needham says while the organization raised $140,000 at the Good Friends annual luncheon a few years ago, that total has since dropped to about $115,000 at last year’s luncheon. Membership, now at about 700, is also down.
Parks says while the number of members attending last year’s Good Fellows luncheon were down compared to the previous year, donations were actually up. In 2008, the 1600-plus member organization raised about $217,000 and in 2009, it raised about $243,000.
“Many of our members are very committed to Good Fellows. They want to help and most of them have the means to help,” says Parks. “Our generous good fellows know that there are people out there who need it.”Speaking from the heart
To help encourage charitable contributions each year from members, Good Fellows and Good Friends both have speakers talk about specific families who have been helped or need help. “We’re appealing to our members’ heart and purse strings,” says Needham.
The Culdas are one such family that finally caught a break, thanks to Good Friends. Already raising their infant son named Benjamin who has Down syndrome, Ioana and Claudiu Culda were surprised when they found out Ioana was pregnant with a second child. Recently relocated from Chicago, the couple had to scramble to make sure that by the March due date, they were ready.
When the baby came in December instead, they were anything but.
“We were struggling. Especially with the money because we didn’t have money for what we needed for the baby and we weren’t prepared for him,” says Ioana. “But we want to do our best for our kids and make sure they have everything they need.”
Julie Higginbotham, service coordinator with Mecklenburg County Children’s Developmental Services, was working with Benjamin’s developmental disabilities at the Culda house when she met the family’s newest addition, Joseph.
She contacted Good Friends to see what they could do for the family.
Originally, Good Friends was just going to buy a car seat for the family. But when they heard about the struggling family’s story, they decided to buy a two-seat stroller, a crib and diapers as well.
“Good Friends has been the most flexible resource that I’ve been able to use for families,” says Higginbotham. “A lot of organizations have a specific list of things they will help with but if you have a family with a need and you can justify that need, Good Friends is always willing to help.”
Claudiu says the donated items have helped make life a lot easier for the Culdas.
“It was kind of hard when Joseph was born because he was sleeping with us in the same bed and we couldn’t sleep very well with him in the bed. We had to be really careful,” says Claudiu. “Now he’s sleeping in his own bed. We wouldn’t have been able to afford these things on our own. Good Friends really helped us.”
So far this year, Good Friends has helped more than 1,000 families. Good Fellows has helped about 1,300. Leaders from both Good Friends and Good Fellows say they’re looking forward to this year’s luncheon and can’t wait to help even more families next year.
“During the holiday season, thousands of people in our community go out and help others in need. But what happens to them the rest of the year?” said Patty Norman, president of Good Friends. “Our funds are distributed pretty evenly throughout the year so we can help the people who have fallen through the cracks and have no other place to go.”Want to go? Good Fellows
Dec. 8. Doors open at 11:30 a.m. and lunch begins at noon.
Charlotte Convention Center, 501 S. College St.
For more information: www.goodfellowsclub.org. Good Friends
Dec. 14 at noon.
Grady Cole Center, 310 N. Kings Drive.
Details: Good Friends members can bring guests. Cost is about $10 for lunch.
RSVP by Nov. 29 to firstname.lastname@example.org