Empty Stocking Fund

Charlotte’s Good Fellows pass the hat, set a record

The Good Fellows called their 98th annual luncheon to order at a minute past noon Wednesday. One hour later, donations from some 1,500 men to help Charlotte’s working poor were nestled all snug in their sacks, headed for the final tally.

Added to memorials and honoraria and delivered three hours later, that total set a record: $458,807, besting last year’s haul by more than $60,000.

Those dollars will go to families in financial crisis in the coming year, as they have since 1917.

“I almost had egg on my face,” said fifth-year President Frank Dowd, who’d gone out on a limb by aiming at $450,000 after last year’s $397,135. “I escaped the egg this year.”

Gov. Pat McCrory and Mayor Dan Clodfelter were among the Fellows’ “bag boys,” weaving through a packed ballroom at the Charlotte Convention Center with sacks to gather envelopes from the men – plus a few women, including representatives from the parallel Good Friends. That’s an all-female group who will meet in the same ballroom Thursday, hoping to collect an additional $200,000 for those in need.

All had been encouraged not to fill out their checks until after the program, which ranged from classic carols by the MasterSingers of St. Peter’s to poignant stories from Mark Reed of Charlotte Country Day School and Tom Skains of Piedmont Natural Gas, both of whom visited families helped by the Fellows’ money this year.

For the first year, members saw a video thank-you from people supported by the Good Fellows, watching a woman grow tearful as she recounted her family’s struggle to stay afloat after her husband lost his job, and a veteran stoically grateful for the Fellows’ aid.

Developers Johnny Harris and Peter Pappas then drew laughter and not a few groans telling topical jokes during the bag boys’ run. (Sample, for tone: They’re sorry Chiquita’s leaving: “We really hate to see the big banana split.”)

At one point, Dowd asked the crowd to stand, then to sit down if this was their first luncheon. Then they sat if they’d been coming for fewer than five years, then 10, then 20. He got to 65 before Bob Dalton took a seat.

Dalton recalled his first Good Fellows luncheon in 1947, when he was 26, and figures he might have been the last one standing if not for George Ivey, who topped the 70-year mark. Dalton had a good-natured quibble with the methodology: Ivey, who has a broken leg, was actually in a wheelchair and shouldn’t have been able to stand.

And what of next year? Dowd said, “I’m going to have to think about that a little bit. This is going to be hard to top.”

To donate, or get more information on Good Fellows: www.goodfellowsclub.org.

Related stories from Charlotte Observer