PHILADELPHIA – In April of 1996 Bob Carroll and some friends held a fundraiser for their ill pal Alfred Patrone. Approximately 1,200 people showed up for a beef'n'beer and raised about $55,000 to help Patrone pay his bills while fighting cancer. The gathering helped show Patrone how many people were rooting for him.
Later, while Carroll visited him in the hospital, Patrone said he had one wish.
"He was so excited about how many people showed up and said that we should keep this (charity) thing going," recalled Carroll, who lives in Conshohocken. "I promised him I would."
Thus was born Friends For Friends, a nonprofit organization that offers financial assistance to those who encounter hardship.
The organization was formed shortly after Patrone's death, with 12 founding members.
"Essentially, it was made up of Cardinal O'Hara (High School) guys from the classes of 1974 and 1975," said Dennis McClatchy, class of '74, who serves on the Friends For Friends board.
Today, more than 300 members support the nonprofit, which has dispensed almost $2 million in donations, according to Carroll, who is its president. Each member donates $50 annually, which allows them to nominate a person in need to receive funds. The board then reviews the nominations. Once a candidate is approved, the member who nominated the recipient visits the person's home and presents the check, tucked in a Friends For Friends brochure, as a surprise.
"One of the best things I have done in my life is to present somebody with a check," said McClatchy, who has done so about 15 times.
FFF hands out 80 to 100 checks per year, and the need among recipients varies, said Carroll. A gentleman who had lost his job and was down to his last dime needed funds to tide him over. A couple who were suffering financially while managing their toddler's kidney disease received a check to help with bills. Another struggling family who simply wanted to give their son a bike received a few hundred bucks to buy him one. And countless grants have been given to people fighting cancer in all its forms.
FFF has no annual budget – when the money comes in, it goes right back out, said Carroll – and is run entirely by volunteers. Its biggest checks range from $3,000 to $4,000 – a larger amount than what the group was able to give when it was launched 24 years ago, said Carroll. That's because donations to the charity have grown over the years, as grateful fund recipients – back on their feet after their struggles –have rallied to support the nonprofit that once supported them.
Patrick Purcell, 59, knows what it's like to be on both sides of the Friends For Friends fence.
A longtime member of the group, Purcell has nominated and presented checks to two recipients.
"I couldn't tell you how rewarding it was to see the person's eyes when they opened up the brochure and saw the check there," said Purcell, who lives in Drexel Hill. "It's wonderful to see how happy it makes people."
On Oct. 24, 2018, the tables turned on Purcell, a week before he was to undergo surgery for lung cancer. He was at home when the doorbell rang. And there was fellow member McClatchy, who had nominated Purcell for a check.
"I'm not an emotional guy, but I cried," said Purcell, a 1978 graduate of Malvern Prep, where he was a basketball star. "While the money definitely helped" with bills "just the fact they were thinking about me, gave me such a big lift."
Owen Quigley of Drexel Hill has been a FFF member for eight years and delivered money to three people.
"There's an overwhelming sense of purpose when you present the check," Quigley said. "It's not only emotional for them but for me as well."
The group holds numerous fundraising events to support the charity's mission, including an annual golf outing, a trivia night, and yearly 50-50 drawing. This year the golf outing – the group's biggest event – had to be cancelled because of the pandemic. But members stepped up anyway, said Carroll.
"A lot of generous members send us checks, so we haven't missed a beat," he said, adding that non-members are always welcome to donate.
What has been most impressive about Friends for Friends has been the nonprofit's longevity, said Tim Malloy of West Deptford, a member for 20 years.
"It's a fabulous organization," he said. "These were just a bunch of buddies who said they wanted to do something for others – and it has grown to this level."
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