‘We are the bridge.’ Good Friends raise over $500,000 to help Mecklenburg’s neediest

32nd annual Good Friends Holiday Luncheon

Good Friends, a Charlotte group that raises money for the community, held its 32nd Annual Holiday Luncheon at the Charlotte Convention Center on Thursday, Dec. 13
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Good Friends, a Charlotte group that raises money for the community, held its 32nd Annual Holiday Luncheon at the Charlotte Convention Center on Thursday, Dec. 13

Imagine being stuck in an elevator, pressing the “call” button and, instead of someone answering, you get a recording and no response for several minutes.

That’s what it feels like for many needy people in Charlotte when they are hit with a traumatic, life-altering event, such as the possible padlocking of an apartment or the electricity to their homes being shut off, said Joanne Beam, president of the Charlotte women’s organization Good Friends.

The group on Thursday held its annual luncheon, where attendees filled a ballroom to capacity at the Charlotte Convention Center. The gathering, held every December, is Good Friends’ key fundraising event. Donations raised are used throughout the year to support the organization’s mission of helping disadvantaged people in Mecklenburg County.

Beam used the elevator example as she kicked off her remarks — from a stage decorated with Christmas trees and poinsettias — recounting how she and other Good Friends members found themselves trapped in an elevator one day recently.

“The experience gave us a small glimpse into the lives of our Good Friends clients,” Beam said. “Good Friends Charlotte answers these calls. We are not a recording. We are the bridge that they need in a crisis.”

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The group, established in 1987, works with 80 nonprofit agencies — such as Charlotte Family Housing, Goodwill, YWCA and Crisis Assistance — who refer people in need to Good Friends. Each day, an average of 91 requests for help come into the organization, it said.

The more than 1,800 women in attendance Thursday represented the largest luncheon gathering in the event’s 32-year history, Beam said.

“Wow,” she said. “I wish you could stand up here and look at this room the way I am.”

Near the end of luncheon, people dressed as Santa fanned out in the room, collecting donations from tables in red sacks.

Beam announced later in the day that the group had raised $501,177 — $331,177 from the attendees and $170,000 in corporate sponsorships.

The Wells Fargo Foundation, the presenting sponsor of the event, donated $75,000 this year, said Madelyn Caple, regional manager for Wells Fargo Private Bank. It marked the eighth year in a row that the foundation has been the presenting sponsor, she said, adding that the foundation’s total contribution over that period comes to $500,000.

Money raised Thursday will be used in 2019 to help more than 4,500 adults and children with expenses such as utility and rent bills, Beam said. Funds will also provide families and individuals with items such as computers, washers and dryers, dentures, glasses and infant car seats, she said.

Attendees on Thursday heard stories of local people who have been helped by the organization.

Sonja Gantt, executive director of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Foundation, talked about a woman who struggles to make ends meet on a monthly income of about $1,400 as an administrative assistant for CMS. Included in her budget is after-school care for her 10-year-old son, who has attention deficit disorder and impulse-control issues, Gantt said.

“Rarely is there a month when she doesn’t have to, as she calls it, ‘move payments around,’” Gantt said.

The woman suffered a financial setback this year when Hurricanes Florence and Michael resulted in schools closing for a combined five days, Gantt said.

“That meant her paycheck would be short and she would not be able to pay her rent,” Gantt said.

Good Friends and Good Fellows Club, a similar organization but with an all-male membership, stepped in to help the woman, Gantt said.

Good Friends said it has donated more than $4.4 million since its establishment.

According to the group, this year it:

Served 4,217 adults and children;

Sent 102 youths to camp;

Provided 83 safe sleep spaces;

Provided computers to 38 families;

Paid 798 utility bills for families; and

Paid 816 rent bills.

The Charlotte Observer was a sponsor of Thursday’s event.

On Wednesday, the Good Fellows Club said it raised $1 million for Charlotte’s working poor during its 102nd annual luncheon at the convention center.

Deon Roberts has covered Charlotte’s financial services industry for The Charlotte Observer since 2013. His beat includes Bank of America and Wells Fargo. He attended Loyola University in New Orleans and is a native of Lafitte, La.