Dining for Women potlucks fight gender inequality

COOKING FOR CHANGE: Tera Broughton, left, and Sylvia Loveridge, right, get ready for the meal at a recent Dining for Women event hosted by Sheila Dunn. Photo by Cindy Kunst

For seven years, Kamala, a young Nepalese woman, was an indentured servant, “rented” out by her parents for $50 a year. Today, she’s the Himalayan nation’s first female motorcycle mechanic, earning $50 a day.

Kamala owes her freedom and improved prospects to Dining for Women, a global, nonprofit “giving circle.” And on Saturday, April 25, members from six of the organization’s 20 Western North Carolina chapters will gather at the Renaissance Asheville Hotel for A Sunset Soiree, aiming to connect, raise money and build awareness. They’ll also share stories like Kamala’s. As of 2014, the giving circle had funded 100 grassroots organizations dedicated to empowering women and erasing gender inequality in developing countries.

But perhaps the most remarkable story of all is how the nonprofit got started. In 2003, Marsha Wallace, then a maternal health nurse in Greenville, S.C., invited 24 friends to her birthday party. She told them about a group of social workers who held monthly potlucks, donating money to help community organizations.

“Marsha said, ‘Why don’t we do that globally for women and girls?’” remembers Barb Collins, board chair and co-founder of Dining for Women. And for Collins, who’d traveled internationally as a consultant to nonprofits, it was a pivotal moment. “I had a flame burning inside about what I could do for women and girls and children in developing countries,” she reveals. “I told Marsha I would help.”

Today, the organization has seven full-time and part-time paid staff, 500 volunteers (including both Wallace and Collins), plus 8,400 members in 430 chapters, 44 states and 11 countries. Potluck by potluck, these giving circles — many comprising only six to 12 women — have raised $4.1 million to date, says Collins. In 2014 alone, Dining for Women raised almost $1 million — a far cry from the $750 that first birthday potluck produced.

A 2012 report on the “NBC Nightly News” tripled the organization’s growth overnight, says Collins. “Our website crashed,” she recalls. “We thought we were prepared, but I’m not sure you can quite prepare for that.” Scads of publications — ranging from USA Today to O, The Oprah Magazine — have covered Dining for Women since then, and both New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and Hillary Clinton have offered praise.

“Our growth has been so fast that we are often running to catch up,” notes Collins. But timing has also been a factor, she says. In the early 2000s, “There was a surge in interest in giving circles. The world started to look for global solutions to poverty and gender inequality. So investing in women and girls seemed a way to [spur] change in the world.”

The process is simple. The chapters meet monthly to support a specific organization chosen by the nonprofit’s program selection team. The Greenville headquarters (no longer a room in Wallace’s home) sends each chapter a DVD, a PowerPoint presentation and fact sheets about that month’s featured entity.

“In our chapter, a different member presents the program every month,” explains Sue Fernbach, who founded the first Asheville chapter in 2011. “Each member brings a covered dish made from recipes from the country where the program is located. So we have fabulous meals, and all of us have learned so much about the challenges women face in these countries.”

But the benefits, notes Collins, don’t stop there: “We are developing leaders. … For example, one woman now on our board became confident enough to get the nursing degree she always wanted.”

Fernbach, who organized the April 25 event, first heard about Dining for Women 10 years ago. “I called Marsha, who was still operating out of her living room, to learn about it. When I moved to Asheville in 2011, a lot of women I knew were interested in forming a chapter.” Downtown Asheville now has three such groups, and Fernbach is eager to help other local women start their own chapters.

Wallace and Beth Ellen Holimon, the parent organization’s executive director, will be on hand at the soiree. The evening will include international hors d’oeuvres such as empanadas (meat or vegetarian), spring rolls and skewered shrimp with a lemon-pepino relish. There’ll be live and silent auctions plus door prizes, meaning attendees could leave the event toting more than inspiration.



Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

2 thoughts on “Dining for Women potlucks fight gender inequality

  1. Jim

    Does this include the myriad of options that women have in the USA? Let’s see, they’re subsidized, promoted via government fiat in jobs and schools, have to have standards lowered to keep up, can get easy and readily available government benefits, the list is endless. And what’s even more obscene about this article is the mere fact that that modern American women are VICTIMS of their own EXCESS and POOR CHOICES rather than institutionalized misogyny. Nor do they have zilch in common with women form other parts of the world that actually live in very poor conditions. The women in this photo have the opportunity to host a pot luck because they’re the most privileged in the world. Wonder what women in other parts of the world where they’re lucky to even eat would say about that.

    • Beth Pape

      They would say, “Thank You for giving me a chance to change my circumstances,” as they have repeatedly.
      In fact, DFW members are contributing to women in developing nations, not in the US, partly because women in the third world have less opportunity and greater challenges than American women.

      Nonetheless, I think it’s pathetic that you don’t think that women in the US have a struggle. Women still earn 68% of what men earn in the same jobs–except in government where the pay is mandated. Women often have to care for one or more kids on that money because Daddy took off and stopped paying child support. We still don’t have equal rights according to the US Constitution. Girls in America ARE sold to give men attending the Super Bowl something to play with the night before the game. Girls who have the misfortune to have fathers who think like you. They need our support.

      I am proud to be a member of Dining for Women.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.