SANTA CRUZ—Dining For Women, an international ring of monthly potluckers who have raised several million dollars for women and girls around the world, is welcoming the organization’s founder at a sold-out event Sunday at The Tannery Arts Center.
It is the beginning of a West Coast meet-the-membership road trip for Marsha Wallace who founded the organization 11 years ago as a monthly potluck group in Greenville, SC and has since overseen its rapid growth to more than 422 chapters around the globe.
The simple format involves inviting women each month to learn about pre-screened programs that help impoverished girls and women around the world. After brief presentations, women are invited to donate roughly the cost of a restaurant meal, or give any amount they choose, to support a cause. Grants have been made to support health, education, vocational training, micro-credit loans and economic development. Members also receive updates from previous recipients to see how their giving has had an impact.
“Marsha Wallace had an idea that resonates with so many women—to make a difference in the lives of people living in poverty,” said Cari Class who started the first Santa Cruz chapter in 2009. The mission includes creating lasting social change for women and girls while respecting other cultures.
“Each of us has ownership in this organization and together we are creating a movement to change the world,” Class said.
Santa Cruz County now has four active chapters that jointly raise about $2,000 each month, Class said. They meet on the second Tuesday, third Monday, third Tuesday and third Wednesday. Cumulatively, the four Santa Cruz groups have raised about $115,550. To be a member, you just have to come to dinner, Class said.
To honor women’s philanthropic mission, Santa Cruz Mayor Lynn Robinson has proclaimed March 23 “Marsha Wallace—Dining for Women Day in Santa Cruz.”
This month, the organization is focusing on raising money for the BlinkNow Foundation’s project in Nepal, the Kopila Women’s Empowerment Center, as well as the Friendship Bridge group in Guatemala
Global membership has grown to more than 8,000 and cumulative giving has topped $3.3 million in grants, according to Wallace. The leadership is now exploring adding a global advocacy component aimed at ending violence against women.
“The funding we do is at a grassroots level,” Wallace said. “The advocacy piece is attacking the issues that we care about at a systemic level. We need to do both to see long-term change.”
Top on the organization’s advocacy agenda is promoting awareness around the International Violence Against Women Act and the Women, Peace and Security Act, which address violence against women through U.S. foreign policy.
“We would love to see our members approach their legislators on the Violence Against Women Act.” Wallace said.
Patty Karabatsos, Western regional leader for the organization, says she hopes Wallace’s western tour will raise more awareness about the kind of impact people can have on developing countries.
“The more members we have, it allows us to do so much more an in international level,” Karabatsos said. “You always have to reach further.”
At A Glance: Dining For Women
WHAT: Dining for Women vets 12 programs each year to support education and skill building of girls and women around the world and fight inequality. The organization creates an educational component for chapter potlucks and receives checks toward specific grants. There is no minimum donation.
LEADERSHIP: Jamye Cooper, executive director
BACKGROUND: Founded by Marsha Wallace in Greenville, SC in 2003.
HEADQUARTERS: P.O. Box 25633, Greenville, SC 29616
MEMBERSHIP: More than 8,000 members in more than 420 chapters
TOTAL RAISED TO DATE: $3.25 million. Eighty-five percent of cash donations directly fund grants.
AVERAGE DONATION: $35
CONTACT: (864) 335-8401; www.diningforwomen.org.
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