CHARLOTTE, NC (Mark Price/The Charlotte Observer) - The century-old Charlotte brotherhood known as The Good Fellows set an attendance record Wednesday, when members of the all-male club gathered to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for Charlotte's neediest families.
More than 1,741 men – along with Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles – attended the annual event at the Charlotte Convention Center, which is famous for its rapid-fire fundraising.
The Good Fellows have raised more than $836,000 this year. Of that, $335,573 was given during the luncheon. That amounts to about $5,600 per minute during the affair.
Good Fellows President Mac Everett said it was the record crowd – about 200 more than in 2016 – that represented a milestone. Many of the seats were filled by newcomers, including younger men and minorities, and a record 300 of them signed up Wednesday to become standing members. Everett wants to believe that will help one of Charlotte's longest-running traditions survive for generations to come.
"Charlotte has changed tremendously since this group was created and we are looking for a broader base, younger and more diverse, that represents the city," said Everett, one of Charlotte's best known civic leaders. "We are 101 years old and we want to be going another 100 years from now, so this is critical for us....We want to keep our traditions going."
At least one attendee at the luncheon was 100 years old and several others had been members of the group for 60 or more years.
The attendees included some of the most influential men in the city, among them former North Carolina governor Pat McCrory, who was also the Charlotte's former mayor; Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney; Mecklenburg County Sheriff Irwin Carmichael; Carolinas HealthCare CEO Gene Woods; and PGA Tour golfer Webb Simpson.
Everett, a retired Charlotte bank executive, told the crowd its goal was to raise enough money to match the club's level of giving over the past year, which was a record $600,000 in donations to 2,500 needy families. Last year, the club raised more than $1 million as part of its 100-year anniversary. The giving was done in partnership with nonprofits like Crisis Assistance Ministry, the Urban Ministry Center, Goodwill and Charlotte Bridge Home.
The bulk of the $600,000 given out this year by the club went to rental assistance for families on the verge of being evicted, while nearly $70,000 went to help people pay their utility bills. The club also contributed $218,000 to create a reserve fund of cash to handle a community catastrophe, such as the widespread damage caused by Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
Speakers at the Wednesday luncheon cited examples of this year's recipients, including a father of four who became disabled after being in a job-related truck crash, and a young mother who escaped a 20-year abusive marriage and reestablished her life as a Charlotte college graduate.
"Good Fellows covered her rent so she could get back on her feet," Woods told the group. "She will be forever grateful."
The Good Fellows started with a small group of men at Second Presbyterian Church in 1917 who collected money to help families provide Christmas gifts for their kids.