Good Fellows’, Good Friends’ luncheons help working poor

This is the week, as happens each December, when fellowship and friendship – and Fellows and Friends – bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars for Charlotte’s working poor. And it all happens in just about two hours.

Gentlemen first: The all-male Good Fellows club will on Wednesday, for the 98th straight year, hold its annual luncheon. A record crowd of more than 1,500 is expected to fill the Richardson Ballroom at the Charlotte Convention Center. All who attend (there’ll be “a table or two of ladies, too,” said President Frank Dowd) will be asked to throw donations to the “bag boys” roaming the room. Those boys will include the mayor and governor, among others, he said.

Last year’s take neared $400,000. This year, Dowd is shooting for $450,000. “I’m bad about staking myself out,” he says. “Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.”

Thursday, the all-female Good Friends will sit down to their 28th luncheon, and President Velva Woollen said she’s aiming for $200,000, a healthy bump from last year’s $170,000 total. A challenge grant, she revealed Monday, has been arranged; the donor, who’ll be announced Thursday, plans to match every dollar given above and beyond last year’s mark.

This event, too, will be at the Convention Center, with about 1,200 expected to attend. For the first year, attendees will be able to swipe credit cards to donate, with 25 “elves” carrying mobile card readers – just one of the ways, says Woollen, the group’s younger women are helping move the organization forward while honoring its intent. Woollen has been to all of the luncheons since they began, in 1987, and has assisted what she calls a transition: “It’s just really exciting to see these young people … ensure the continuity of Good Friends as it was originally thought of.”

Both groups aim to help people who might “fall through the cracks of other agencies,” as Dowd put it. “We hit the spaces and the people,” said Woollen. “We don’t just do rent and utilities; we do braces and crutches and things like that.” Each group has two part-time staff members: one who interviews and works directly with clients, and one tackling administrative duties.

“This has been a joy for me and quite an honor,” said Woollen. “It starts Christmas for you, that’s the bottom line. … That’s the spirit of Charlotte to me, the giving back.”

To donate or get more information on Good Friends: www.goodfriendscharlotte.org; on Good Fellows: www.goodfellowsclub.org.