The Colonel was just flat wrong.
Thirty years ago, four Charlotte women approached civic lion Col. J. Norman Pease about their plans to start an all-female version of the charitable all-male Good Fellows Club he’d run for three decades.
Pease, a retired engineer, was 99 then. He listened to the women – Patty Norman, Alice Folger, Catherine Browning and Sally Saussy – but concluded they wouldn’t be able to raise the kind of money that would make a difference for Charlotte’s working poor.
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The first lunch of the Good Friends club at Christ Episcopal Church in 1987 drew 415 women who donated $32,205.
Thursday, at their 29th yearly holiday luncheon, more than 1,400 members and guests packed into the same ballroom at the Charlotte Convention Center that Good Fellows had filled the day before. They raised a record $312,091 that includes a $50,000 donation announced by Wells Fargo bank at the lunch.
The club is using an additional $51,000 in corporate sponsorships to pay for the event so that all the money raised Thursday will go to help people in need in 2016.
“We are over the moon,” said Good Friends President Sherrard Georgius. “I started crying when Wells Fargo announced their donation and thought, ‘Oh no, I’m not going to be able to go up to speak.’
“We are very proud of the crowd and the help we’ll be able to deliver next year. People want to make a difference in our community.”
The haul came in about eight minutes as cash, coins and pledge cards were dropped into the sacks of a dozen Santas – members of Good Fellows – and elves and in tin buckets on tables. It will all go to help hundreds of disadvantaged families “in small but meaningful ways,” Georgius said.
Good Friends helps remind me of all aspects of wonder, from the most inquisitive dimension to its most awe-inspiring. When I think about Good Friends throughout the year, I wonder, ‘Who are they helping now?’
Madelyn Caple, Wells Fargo regional director
After Wells Fargo regional director Madelyn Caple announced the bank was donating $50,000 – it had already chipped in $50,000 to help pay for the lunch – she urged Good Friends to dig deeper and break the half-million dollar mark like the Good Fellows did on Wednesday.
The club fell short, but Georgius said she felt the two clubs would raise a combined $1 million “in the near future” – perhaps next year when Good Fellows turns 100 years old and Good Friends, 30.
The efforts of Good Friends, Caple said, “helps remind me of all aspects of wonder, from the most inquisitive dimension to its most awe-inspiring. When I think about Good Friends throughout the year, I wonder, ‘Who are they helping now?’ ”
Before the collection began, the crowd heard stories of the remarkable work their donations from last year performed.
Natalie Frazier Allen, founder and CEO of Charlotte’s Arts Empowerment Project, told about Meg Jones, who grew up poor in Augusta, Ga., but went to Davidson College on an academic scholarship.
Jones’ mother died just after she graduated fifth in her class from high school. As a sophomore at Davidson, her father died – and her life plummeted into depression, alcoholism and “overwhelming debt.”
She graduated from Davidson in 1993, “but for the next 15 years Meg struggled,” said Frazier Allen, who has worked with abused foster children and women victimized by domestic violence.
Jones “persevered,” realizing she wanted to be a nurse “so she could help people.” During nursing school, she relapsed, then was diagnosed with diabetes that blurred her vision.
She couldn’t afford an eye exam or glasses. Good Friends bought her glasses.
I live with much gratitude, amazement and wonderment. ... I have seen many small acts of kindness that literally changed my life. They came just when I needed them most.
Nursing student Meg Jones, a recipient of Good Friends help
To applause, Jones walked to the stage in blue nursing scrubs. She told those gathered that she lives “with much gratitude, amazement and wonderment. ... I have seen many small acts of kindness that literally changed my life. They came just when I needed them most.”
She’s graduating soon.
Raquel Lynch, chief program officer for Crisis Assistance Ministry, described the “love story” between Lewis and Tina.
Lewis is a veteran who served in Desert Storm, and Tina raised their children while he was away. Returning, he got a job as an HVAC technician but was diagnosed with diabetes. He lost his job because he had to take time off for treatments and doctor visits.
“Now, Lewis was facing a different war,” Lynch said. “In a flash, they faced an environment of crisis. A health crisis, then loss of income and ultimately they lost their home.”
If that wasn’t enough, their daughter divorced, and she was diagnosed with a mental illness. Lewis and Tina’s two granddaughters came to live with them at a homeless shelter.
“But their love for each other and their family grew stronger,” Lynch said.
Eventually, they were able to get into a new home. Good Friends stepped in and bought them a used washer and dryer.
“They spent three hours to go on the bus – with the two grandchildren – to the laundromat,” Lynch said. “Our gift gave them time back to help their grandchildren do their homework and time for Lewis to seek employment. It gave them time to be together.”
The club’s concept is growing, with Good Friends started by former Charlotteans in Wilmington, Winston-Salem, Georgetown, S.C., and now Charleston.
Last week, Georgius attended the first lunch of Charleston Good Friends, where 135 women raised $25,000.
Sitting in wonderment at the Charlotte event were the group’s four founders who audaciously approached Col. Pease 30 years ago.
“I absolutely couldn’t believe this turnout today,” Patty Norman said as the crowd broke up. “We had 400 people at our lunches when Good Fellows had a thousand. Now they don’t have that many more than we do. It is such a good feeling to see what has happened since our humble beginnings.
“I couldn’t be prouder – it gets my holiday off to a good start.”
The Empty Stocking Fund
The Charlotte Observer has sponsored the Empty Stocking Fund since about 1920. Last year, readers contributed nearly $374,000 to buy needy children gifts for Christmas. All money contributed goes to the Salvation Army’s Christmas Bureau, which buys toys, food, clothing and gift cards for families. To qualify, a recipient must submit verification of income, address and other information that demonstrates need. For five days in mid-December, up to 3,000 volunteers help distribute the gifts to families at a vacant department store. The name of every person who contributes to the Empty Stocking Fund will be published on this page daily. If the contributor gives in someone’s memory or honor, we’ll print that person’s name, too. Contributors can remain anonymous.
How to help
To donate online: www.charlotteobserver.com/living/helping-others/empty-stocking-fund/. Send checks to: The Empty Stocking Fund, P.O. Box 37269, Charlotte, NC 28237-7269. For questions about your donation, call 704-358-5520. For questions about helping families, call Salvation Army Donor Relations: 704-714-4725.
Total raised so far: $198,055