Ladies lunch to raise funds for women-centered charities

CORNWALL — Each month, a growing group of women in Addison County get together for lunch.
But not just any lunch. The meals are hosted by the first Vermont chapter of Dining for Women, a national charity that raises money for women’s groups around the world.
Marion Leonard, a kindergarten teacher at Mary Hogan Elementary School in Middlebury, and Mary Gill, a school nurse there, initiated Addison County’s chapter. The group has been meeting monthly since April, and is growing fast.
“I’m so thrilled,” Leonard said, of the community’s growing interest in Dining for Women. “It’s a great group of people to get together.”
The formula is simple: Each month, Dining for Women selects an international women’s charity to feature. Around the country, chapters formed by local groups of women (friends, family members, neighbors, and co-workers) get together and prepare a meal, potluck style. Often, discussion focuses on issues addressed by the featured charity. At the end of the meal, each woman writes a check for what they might have spent on lunch at a restaurant. All of the money goes straight to the charity.
“Dining for Women does all of the hard work,” said Leonard, who hosted a lunch of soup and salad at her home in Cornwall last Saturday. She explained that the national umbrella organization provides local chapters with informational materials, and does all the vetting to make sure the featured charity is an effective and worthy recipient of participants’ money.
The range of charities, and issues affecting impoverished women, span the globe.
“They work with local women,” Leonard said of the charities that Dining for Women features. “So it’s not like an outsider coming in.”
For Leonard and Gill, the desire to help began with a book. “Half the Sky,” written by Pulitzer Prize-winning husband-and-wife duo Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, is a global call to action on issues that affect women living in poverty around the world. Kristof and WuDunn also spoke at Middlebury College commencement in 2010.
“We were incredibly moved by the book,” said Leonard, adding that she and Gill often read books together and discuss them. “We wondered how we could take some action.”
An Internet search led them to “Dining for Women,” whose philosophy appealed to them.
“It really doesn’t take much to have that domino effect,” Leonard explained.
Since their first event April, the Addison County chapter of Dining for Women has contributed to charities that deal with the genital mutilation of Masai women in Africa, sex trafficking in Cambodia, education programs in Guatemala and single-mother support in Vietnam. This past Saturday’s event raised money for Global Grassroots, which benefits women in Rwanda.
“We learn a lot,” Leonard said. She noted that they can supplement their meals with information and discussion about the issue at hand, even using recipes from the area that the charity donates to for their meals. Often, Leonard and Gill will read passages from “Half the Sky.”
And the group is still growing; Leonard encourages anyone who is interested to participate.
“We are happy to learn,” she said. “And we also get to enjoy each other’s companionship, and make change happen.”

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