Food & Drink: Dining for Women a powerful potluck – The Columbian

Rachel Pinsky

Rachel Pinsky

If you go

• What: Dining Out for Women — Vancouver Chapter

• Where: Unitarian Universalist Church, 4505 E. 18th St., Vancouver

• When: Second Tuesday of every month. The next meeting is Feb. 12.

• Contact: or

Poverty is sexist. Women are the majority of the world’s extreme poor, a majority of the world’s illiterate, and face greater risk of disease and poor health. Yet we know that even small investments can make a big impact.

These are the guiding principles of Dining for Women, an organization started in 2002 by Marsha Wallace, a nurse and mother from Greenville, S.C. Wallace read an article about a group of friends who came together for potluck dinners and collected small donations for needy families — the amount of money they would have spent going out to dinner.

Now there are more than 400 Dining for Women chapters in the United States and affiliated groups in 12 countries. This organization has invested more than $6 million in grants and partnerships with organizations that help women and girls throughout the world one small donation (the average is $35) at a time.

In January 2011, Katlin Smith started the Vancouver chapter after reading an article about a Portland Dining for Women Group. The Vancouver chapter meets the second Tuesday of every month in a large space at the Unitarian Universalist Church. It’s one of the larger chapters, with an average of 35 to 40 people at each meeting. This group typically raises $800 to $1,000 every month.

At the December meeting, I was welcomed at the door by Alice Linker and Donna Shaver. Linker has been with the group since the first meeting but modestly considers herself “just a worker bee.” On the table in front of them were two baskets for contributions — one for renting the space ($1 per person) and one for donations for the month’s chosen charity.

The universal rule of potlucks is that if you invite the right mix of people, you will get a pleasing array of food. At this meeting, an ideal potluck equilibrium was achieved. The long buffet table was loaded with shrimp cocktail, veggies with dip, deviled eggs, kitchari (an Ayurvedic mixture of grains), rice with peas, dahl, roasted turkey, spare ribs, goat cheese-stuffed apricots, and an abundance of baked goods (Mexican brownies, chewy cookies with Amaretto frosting and cookies with white chocolate, dried cranberries and orange zest).

Many of the members believe that the group’s best cook is Preston Seu, who learned to prepare Indian food from his niece. At this gathering, he brought an aromatic basmati rice studded with tender, bright green peas and a rich, flavorful dahl. He said the secret to the dahl was ghee (clarified butter) and curry leaves.

Wine bottles filled another long table in an array of whites and reds. Attendees bring their own plates, silverware, napkins and a dish to share or a bottle of wine, but the group leaders make sure that there are plenty of wine glasses.

During the dining period, the room filled with friendly conversation and laughter. The participants were mostly women (with a few men) in a multigenerational age range from teenagers in black Converse sneakers to gray-haired elders in flowing tops. Many wore red in honor of the season.

As we finished dining, Smith introduced the month’s speaker, Clark Public Utilities Commissioner Jane Van Dyke. A single charity is collectively supported by Dining for Women chapters throughout the country and the world at each monthly dinner. The beneficiaries are vetted and picked by the national organization, and information is presented by a member of the local chapter.

We watched a short video about the evening’s recipient, GRAVIS. Founded in 1983, this nonprofit organization operates in the harsh arid climate of the Thar Desert in Northern India. The project that Dining for Women was funding addresses the health aspects of women and girls with a specific focus on their sexual and reproductive health status.

In the video, a woman in a red head scarf holding an infant explained the problems for women in her region — repeated births and lack of milk, fruit and vegetables. A man explained that the organization is based on the Gandhian philosophy of Sarvodaya — all rising, but the last person first. He said, “Healthy girls and women are a foundation of a healthy society.”

Following the video, Van Dyke gave a PowerPoint presentation with very detailed financial information about GRAVIS. After a question-and-answer session, Frances Foley presented the treasurer’s report for the evening. The group collectively raised $835 to help women and girls in this harsh region.

A raffle ticket was drawn for an autumn-colored batik apron made by women in Ghana, whose bright beaded jewelry was for sale at the meeting. Alice Linker won and immediately ran over and handed it to Preston Seu to thank him for the delicious food he brings every month.

Smith announced, “Everyone is on cleanup committee.” Before I could even take my plate and utensils off the table, all the tables and chairs were folded and neatly stacked to the side of the room. The tablecloths were whisked away and folded and the leftovers repackaged. The participants slowly streamed out the door into the brisk winter night, chatting and bidding adieu until next month.

Rachel Pinsky can be emailed at You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @couveeats.

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