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

Visibly stunned by two women who personally thanked them for life-changing help, and spurred by a challenge grant, the all-female Good Friends came up with a record-blasting $272,866 at their annual luncheon Thursday at the Charlotte Convention Center.

The money will go to help those in need in Charlotte who have exhausted other options for assistance. Couple that with the men-only Good Fellows’ total from its parallel luncheon Wednesday, and more than $730,000 will be dispersed to the working poor by the two groups in the coming year.

“I had people tell me they tore up the checks they’d already written and wrote another one,” said outgoing Good Friends president Velva Woollen. “And three told me to call if we didn’t hit the goal and they’d give more. It’s all just the best year.”

The goal for the group’s 28th annual luncheon was $200,000. Last year, they raised $170,000. Wells Fargo’s Jay Everette announced Thursday to more than 1,200 attendees that the bank’s foundation would pitch in up to $30,000 in matching money for every dollar over that 2013 mark.

The Friends and guests proceeded to blow past the goal, handily.

The first young woman to thank the women was a straight-A seventh-grader with health issues and an enviable resume of extracurricular activities. With Good Friends’ aid, she’d been able to go to sleep-away 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: Struggling to care for her three siblings after their parents died, plus a teenage daughter, she was on the brink of homelessness when the Good Friends stepped in. 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 luncheons since they began in 1987. Four women held the first gathering 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 said wryly in a video shown at the luncheon.

A handful of Santas and a multitude of blinking-necklaced “elves” collected checks and, for the first time, helped donors swipe credit cards for immediate giving – part of a technology upgrade lauded by Woollen, who’s been to all 28 luncheons. “We now Twitter, we blog, we Facebook and I don’t know what else. We’ve ensured our future with these new young women. They’ve got the same heart and same spirit as we had 28 years ago.”

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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