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Good Friends gather in record numbers, aiming to lift Charlotteans in need

Speaker Molly Barker stepped up to the podium at Thursday’s Good Friends annual luncheon and promptly ditched her prepared remarks.

Clearly shaken by what she, and about 1,200 other women, had just heard in the Charlotte Convention Center ballroom, she asked for a moment of silence.

What they’d heard that stopped everything wasn’t the surprise announcement of a Wells Fargo foundation challenge grant, though that drew enthusiastic applause: The foundation agreed to match dollar for dollar, up to $30,000, any money over last year’s mark of about $170,000. (Thursday’s total was expected to be announced by late afternoon.)

No, what drew the silence was – for the first time since the all-female group began collecting donations to help the working poor in 1987 – two people who’d gotten that help, stepped up to the microphone to thank the Friends in person.

The first was a straight-A student with health issues and an enviable resume of extracurricular activities who’d been able to go to sleepaway camp for the first time, as she had longed to do. She brightly told the women they weren’t Good Friends, they were “ great friends!”

The second brought the room to stillness: a young woman struggling to care for three siblings after their parents died, plus a teenage daughter. Support from the Good Friends kept her family from becoming homeless. She crumpled into tears for a moment, then lifted her chin and spoke unwaveringly. “You have changed my life... One day I hope to be sitting in your chair, so I can return the favor.”

That was the moment that lifted this year above all others, said member Joan Zimmerman, who has missed just one of the 28 Good Friends luncheons. Four women began the group at Christ Episcopal Church, legendarily spurred by a member of the men-only Good Fellows saying he didn’t think women could do something like this. That’s all it took, as one of the women says in a video produced by the Friends and shown at the luncheon.

For more information, or to join (yearly $65 dues pay for two part-time staffers and the luncheon itself): goodfriendscharlotte.org.

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