VALPARAISO | Through fellowship and fun, a group of women also promote philanthropy in the Valparaiso chapter of Dining for Women.
Dining for Women is a national organization founded in 2002 to fund grass-roots vocational training, education, healthcare, and economic programs to improve the lives of women and girls in the world’s developing countries.
In chapters nationwide, women share a monthly carry-in meal and contribute what they would have spent on a restaurant meal to charities that fight the oppression of women across the globe. In 2013, Dining for Women supported programs like Haiti’s Midwives Save Lives, Nepal Teacher Training Innovation, Foundation Rwanda and Thailand’s Smiles on Wings.
Anna Schoon, of Kouts, founded the Valparaiso chapter of Dining for Women in April 2013 after reading the book “Half the Sky,” which focuses on the repression of women and girls around the world.
“The book explored issues faced by women in these countries, like genital mutilation and sex-selective abortion. These are things we are pretty insulated from in the U.S.,” Schoon said. “I started to follow that movement and learned about Dining for Women, and I wondered if this was something people were interested in doing.”
Schoon recruited friends and received “good feedback,” with six women attending the first meeting.
Now each month, about 20 of the group’s 40 members each bring a dish for a shared carry-in meal and learn about efforts around the world to bolster women. The group convenes at the Pines Village Retirement Center.
“We decided to do that so no one has to clean their house,” Schoon said. “Everyone brings whatever they want. Some like to cook and prepare something elaborate, others bring something from the deli, and it always works our perfect.”
Dining for Women member Minakshi Ghuman feels a strong fellowship with the women.
“Some of these (women), like me, have an international background while others personify my favorite kind of person -- one who thinks of themselves as a citizen of the world,” said Ghuman, of Valparaiso. “Having grown up in India, I have witnessed some of the suffering, and my resolve for helping women has evolved more through my many years of bringing up my children as a single mother.”
The group collects about $200 monthly to benefit the month’s highlighted charity. Since the chapter began a year ago, it has raised nearly $3,000, part of the nearly $700,000 raised for women’s charities by the national organization in 2013.
“The idea really resonates with women, and we get really positive feedback from the people that come,” Schoon said. “Our goal is to get the word out and help it grow.”
The national organization has 400 chapters but would like to grow to 1,500 chapters to raise $250,000 each year to support the featured women’s charities, Schoon said.
“We’d love to get big enough to start some other chapters,” she said. “We have lots of communities locally. … There is certainly plenty of opportunities to start additional chapters.”