Think of families living “on the brink of calamity,” a woman asked a full ballroom at the Charlotte Convention Center on Thursday.
Even a small amount of money – a month’s rent, help with utility bills, boxes of diapers – can make a big difference to those families, the local women’s organization Good Friends Charlotte says.
“For our friends, they are literally on the edges, and all they need is one more little thing,” luncheon chairwoman Sonja Nichols told the crowd.
Good Friends raised $412,482 through its 31st annual luncheon Thursday, including $275,082 in personal donations from luncheon attendees. All of that money goes to families in need, Good Friends president Joanne Beam said. (Overhead costs are paid by members’ annual dues.)
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In 2017, more than half the donations helped families with rent or utility bills. The rest paid for medical expenses, transportation, summer camp scholarships – and everyday household items like clothing, mousetraps and sturdy locks for survivors of domestic violence.
At the luncheon, members shared stories of the people they helped this year. They included a woman who needed diapers and clean bottles so she could finish school with a newborn and a man who became disabled, lost his job and couldn’t pay his water bill.
Occasionally, Good Friends gets checks from people they helped years ago who want to pay back the money, Beam said. Or they hear from previous recipients about the difference a small, long-ago donation made in their lives. One woman at Thursday’s luncheon got a round of applause because she’s graduating from nursing school in the spring, several years after Good Friends helped her buy a dress for a high school awards ceremony.
Good Friends works with 80 organizations to identify people in need, including Goodwill, Crisis Assistance and Charlotte Family Housing.
“With the families at Charlotte Family Housing, we are helping with washers and dryers,” Beam said. “One of the things that people don’t think about is if you have to put your family on a bus and go to a laundromat with all that stuff, and then you sit there and waste all that – I mean, you’re there for hours, and then you get back on that bus and go home. A, it’s expensive, but B, that’s a lot of time.”
The benefits of washers and dryers are bigger than just convenience, Beam said, because they give parents more time to help their kids with homework and spend time together as a family.
The organization has focused this year on expanding its membership, especially among younger women and minorities.
“We want to be a reflection of the community,” Beam said.
Good Friends has been growing rapidly, Beam said, and hosted its largest luncheon ever this year, with 1,760 people attending. They had to switch venues just weeks before the event because so many people wanted to come, she said.
The money raised this year was almost $100,000 less than the year before, when people donated to commemorate Good Friends’ 30th anniversary, Beam said.
The organization also honored a retiring employee, Polly Needham, at Thursday’s luncheon. Needham will retire in January after working for Good Friends for its entire history, Beam said, and she took a particular interest in summer camp scholarships.
Those scholarships sent 145 kids to camp in summer 2017, and from now on, they’ll be named for Needham.