GREAT BARRINGTON -- They bring their appetites, a dish and a strong commitment to help women across the globe.
Since February 2012, members of the local Dining for Women chapter have gathered monthly -- 25 to 35 at a time -- for a potluck meal.
Everyone eats, drinks and pitches in roughly the amount they would spend at a restaurant.
So far, they’ve collected more than $11,000, funds that have found their way to a range of worldwide programs supporting women and girls; each month DFW features a different program.
The most recent dinner drew more than 100 to the Berkshire South Regional Community -- which, for the first time, included men. It also included DFW president Marsha Wallace, who said she wanted to visit Great Barrington’s chapter because of its "vitality."
"The attendance here is outstanding for a relatively small town," Wallace said in an interview at Friday’s event. "And the people already understand the issues. This is like nirvana for Dining for Women."
A first time visitor to the Berkshires, Wallace was making the final stop on her recent tour of Northeastern DFW locations.
DFW, based in Greenville, was founded by Wallace in 2003. It has grown to national stature and boasts 420 chapters with more than 9,000 members. And it’s raised more than $3 million, funds that have been allocated to a whole host of women’s causes across the globe.
It is the means by which poor Afghan girls become educated. It serves as startup capital for a Vietnamese woman’s business. It purchases goats for a community of women in Borneo. It trains nurses in Tanzania. It combats the evils of sex trafficking and rape.
The dinner Friday raised still more money for DFW, which took the occasion to begin a "13th Month Campaign," which will collect funds to support the DFW infrastructure.
Wallace said 85 cents of every dollar given to DFW goes to the programs it supports.
These programs are chosen by a meticulous process. Applicants must open their books to DFW, map out plans for how the funds will be used and demonstrate success in executing these plans for continued support.
But any organization with such a purpose knows the size of the problem it faces, and that its work can hardly be finished.
"More women were killed in the last 50 years just because they were women than all the men killed in the world wars of the 20th century," Wallace said, "and furthermore, 2 million more girls each year disappear because of gender discrimination."
Friday’s event featured the showing of a video to raise awareness about Foundation Rwanda, an organization that provides schooling for children born of rape during the
Jeannette Artini, DFW’s Northeastern Regional Leader, also had praise for the local chapter.
"They were overachievers right from the start," she said. "They raised $1,100 within a couple days of starting."
That money went to a Guatemalan literacy program for Mayan women, Starfish One by One.
Leslye Heilig and Linda Baxter founded the local group.
"As of now, and that’s not including tonight, 175 women have attended at least one potluck," Heilig said. "Friends bring friends, who in turn bring more friends. From our small Berkshire community, we have and continue to meet the most interesting women who are committed to improving the lives of women and children wherever they may be."
To reach Phil Demers:
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On Twitter: @BE_PhilD