What started as a group of friends with a unique idea to raise money for charity has turned into a world-wide effort to help the less fortunate, and it's slowly spreading across the Valley.
Dining for Women was first started in 2003 in Greenville, S.C., by Marsha Wallace, and the first group started in Phoenix five years ago by a woman named Rita Dickinson, who happened to see a small paragraph about the group in a magazine.
The idea behind the organization is to meet however often the group would like and instead of going out to eat, dining in. The money that the women would have normally spent eating out then goes to a good cause.
Dickinson said she thought it sounded like a fun alternative to a book club or other gathering so she started her own chapter and began gathering friends to take part in it.
Ahwatukee Foothills resident Jean Moore met Dickinson while being a chairperson for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. The two hit it off, and Moore decided to join Dickinson's group.
"I had a lot of fun and was learning a lot, but she was deep in Phoenix and on a week night it was quite a drive to make from Ahwatukee," Moore said. "We decided I should start my own chapter, so that's what I did."
Moore started the Ahwatukee Foothills chapter of Dining for Women in August of 2010. Now, the group has an average of about 15 regular members and fluctuates to more than 20.
"It's really a nice way to get a mix of being able to chat, keeping up with your community, and sharing your opinions with women of like mind," she said.
Moore's Ahwatukee group meets once a month to dine together. They rotate whose home they go to, and everyone brings a potluck dish to share. Dining for Women provides a video about the organization the night will benefit and they also try to provide recipes for the women from the region they are helping.
Eileen Brill Wagner, Southwest Regional Leader for Dining for Women, said the organization has a group of women who very carefully select the organizations the dinners will benefit.
They try to choose organizations that benefit women and children in large groups and they also make sure the organizations really put the majority of the money donated into their cause and not administration fees.
Many of the groups they choose are in third-world countries, which allows the women to face and discuss topics like slavery and poverty.
"The goal is to make sure the people who are in true poverty get help and it's not handouts," Moore said. "In our group people were asking why not benefit some groups locally? So what we do is we just bring items, whatever we feel, to our meetings. It may be a box of deodorant, or clothing, or bedding. We collect that throughout the year and then we take it to Sunshine Acres Orphanage. The organization we donate to will change periodically, we just take a vote for one cause per year."
Wagner said she hasn't seen a lot of turnover in Dining for Women. Most women who come once keep coming back.
It's the reason the organization has expanded to more than 200 chapters since 2003. The group is working on forming more chapters in the Phoenix area.
To start a chapter there's a small registration fee and a memorandum to review online. Dining for Women asks that chapters meet at least four times each year, but otherwise they don't dictate how often or who comes.
For more information on the club, visit www.diningforwomen.org.
Wagner will be hosting a brunch on Jan. 29 at 11:30 a.m. for those interested in starting their own chapter. She can be reached at email@example.com for more information.
"I think that everyone deserves a chance, and not everyone is privileged and comes from money and has money," Moore said. "I think if we work together for humanity, no matter where they are or where they're from, it'll make the world a better place. I think that'll impact my grandchildren and their children and all the way down the line.
"If we can make that big difference and make people self sustaining then we're going to solve a lot of other issues in the meantime."
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