Women's potlucks raise funds for different projects abroad each month
by Kaye Hult
On a Tuesday evening in September, 32 women gathered at Q'emiln Park's Grand Pavilion in Post Falls for a joint meeting of the Spokane Valley and Hayden chapters of Dining for Women (DFW). Ten of them were guests interested in learning more about DFW.
They shared a potluck supper, where the main dish was a recipe from Malawi, the country about which they would learn in the meeting.
Judy Bacon, who helped found the Spokane Valley chapter with then co-leader Cheri Susens, introduced a video on the GAIA (Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance) program in Malawi, which the women's donations would support.
She said their donations would be pooled with those of chapters throughout the U.S. to support GAIA's work. Next month, she said, their donations would go to another program in another part of the world that would make lasting change in the lives of the women and children being served.
"DFW is a national collective giving circle, probably the largest in the U.S., if not in the world," she said. "This nonprofit has more than 8,000 members in this country. We have more than 400 chapters, maybe 450."
The next day, Judy saw that donations from the Spokane Valley Chapter and guests totaled more than $600 to benefit GAIA projects, with Hayden's not tallied.
She learned about Dining for Women when, newly retired from teaching, she moved from Coeur d'Alene to Boise.
A friend told her, "I've been going to a group I think you'd really like." Judy found it to be a group of like-minded progressive women. She liked that it enabled her to do a little bit of charitable giving internationally.
"I wanted to donate to an international cause," she said, " but I didn't know who to trust."
She learned how carefully DFW vets organizations it supports.
"DFW's individual monthly grants nationally never exceed $50,000," she explained. A committee of women from all over the U.S. read grant applications. Using strict guidelines, they pick 12 of about 200 applications submitted.
"The impact is that a little goes a long, long way," she said.
Last year, DFW donated about $1 million. Each grant must make lasting change in the lives of women and children. The organization sends detailed reports on the progress.
"We don't fund political or religious organizations," she continued. "We have no ulterior motive for our giving."
DFW is focused on not disrupting a culture. They seek projects that are done by and wanted by the women.
Seventy-five percent of the 1.3 billion people in extreme poverty, of the 7.5 billion people in the world, are women and children, Judy said.
World Bank studies show that women reinvest 90 percent of their income back into the family for educating, feeding and health care, while men reinvest only 40 percent of financial aid this way.
"DFW supports organizations in developing countries because 85 percent of American charity stays in the U.S. Of the remaining 15 percent, almost all comes from private foundations, not individuals. Resources in the U.S. are superior to those in developing countries, yet our foreign aid is skimpy," Judy said.
Dining for Women came about 15 years ago, when Marcia Wallace, a former nurse in Greenhill, S.C., and her next door neighbor, Barbara Collins, an expert on nonprofits, began talking.
Marcia was looking for a group that benefited women and children. She had heard about a group, Women to Women, that did something like that.
Marcia's birthday was coming up. She invited her friends to come and, instead of their going out to dinner, they shared a potluck meal and donated what they would have spent on a meal to a cause for women and children.
While they began by donating locally, they decided they would make the biggest impact by doing international philanthropy, because poverty in developing countries is so extreme and the resources so limited, Judy said.
The GAIA project in Malawi empowers young women, a guiding principle of Dining for Women's work. According to the GAIA website, part of their program is to give women and girls a university education and then train them to be nurses. Many of these young women are orphaned heads of households, caring for siblings. The number of nurses in Malawi has been heavily depleted by the HIV/AIDS epidemic there.
The students agree to serve as nurses for the same number of years they were sponsored. Now, 10 percent of Malawi's nurses are GAIA scholars. Ninety-nine percent choose to remain in Malawi for their entire career. By the time they retire, each will have served more than 3,000 patients, according to the GAIA website.
When Judy moved to Spokane Valley two and a half years ago, she was asked to mentor the DFW groups in Boise, Spokane and Hayden, she said.
"That lasted about a year. Then they found someone to mentor in Boise," she said, "and Tami Savage became the mentor in North Idaho."
The Hayden chapter has existed for six years.
Judy said she will soon retire from mentoring, but will continue on as a co-leader for Spokane Valley.
Judy grew up in Portland, Ore. At the University of Oregon, she studied teaching and philosophy, graduating in 1960 with a bachelor's in education and a teaching certificate.
Her first teaching post was in Sisters, Ore., where she taught all four years of English, plus first year French. She directed the school plays as well.
"I became a master of the two-minute lesson plan," she said, "and I could see the high school in a microcosm, because there were only five faculty."
She also taught high school in Portland for three years. She taught in other small and large high schools in Oregon. She also taught in California and Idaho.
In 1971, she came to Coeur d'Alene where she taught seventh grade English for 27 years.
While teaching and parenting took up most of her time, she was active in community theater, the teachers' union and the Kootenai County Task Force for Human Relations. Once she retired from teaching and moved to Boise, she began volunteering as a CASA (court appointed special advocate). The position allowed her to be the eyes and ears of the judge in cases of child custody.
"It was good to advocate for these children in court and protect them from neglect and abuse," said Judy, who found her work as a CASA to be a good way to use her teaching and writing skills. She had to write convincing reports to the judge, after having spent hours in investigation. She was working as a CASA when she met the friend who told her she would like DFW.
"The world isn't just about having a good time," she reflected. "You can't let the world go to hell in a handbasket.
"I like to be the change that I'd like to see happen. I like organizing things and putting them in order. I like to iron, to get the wrinkles out," she said.
In October, Judy plans to travel to Guatemala with a DWF group. They'll see three projects funded by DFW in the past.
Several times at the September meeting in Post Falls, the invitation was extended to begin a new DFW chapter in Coeur d'Alene, Post Falls or Sandpoint. It costs only $50 to begin a chapter, the amount required to register it.
Judy said that at each meeting women share the Dining for Women Affirmation that when they gather to share food, they "share something of themselves." They recognize the associations of food, life and nurture shared by women in all cultures of the world.
"We express the hope that our collective efforts will make a life-changing transformation within ourselves, and with the women and children whose lives we touch," the affirmation continues, closing with: "May we honor the power within us as women and may we one day feast together in a world of peace and global understanding."
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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, October, 2018