PIEDMONT -- Picture a cozy evening with a group of about 15 to 20 friends, where each woman brings a dish to share.

One month, the theme might be Middle Eastern, another month, Vietnamese. But unlike your "typical" potluck, these women have gathered with a purpose in mind: to discuss the plight of women in a specific country. Brought together by Bev Nakashima and Hilda West, they make up the Piedmont-Oakland chapter of Dining for Women, and their dinner giving circle will result in a collection of funds to further the cause of the month.

"I describe us as a warm gathering of women that are excited to get together to support an important cause," West said.

Dining for Women the group's parent organization based in South Carolina, has 350 chapters across the United States. With its slogan, "Changing the world one dinner at a time," it promotes a new concept of collecting on a large scale while maintaining the intimacy of a small group, using its dinner chapters to educate members and allow them to become agents of change.

Every month, Dining for Women selects one program to support, working in countries of extreme challenge for women and provides information to its chapters.

"They select a grass roots group outside the United States that's doing something to empower women through education, health care, vocational training, micro-credit loans and economic development," West said. "They help them help themselves, not just donate money."


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Supplied with an informational DVD, Nakashima and West spend time educating themselves about the program being supported that month and then contact their members, asking each to bring a dish to share.

"We talk about the cause at dinner, where the money we hope to raise will go and how it will sustain the program," Nakashima said. "We ask members to donate the amount of money they would normally pay to go out to dinner."

Initially begun by Nakashima and West in May 2012, the Piedmont-Oakland chapter has held three dinners. At one, it raised funds to support microloans for women in Vietnam so they could send their children to school. For the second dinner, money was sent to Threads for Change, a program in the remote province of Farah in Afghanistan, where women are being taught embroidery and life skills to enable them to make items they can sell.

"Women are really marginalized in these rural areas, so this program educates them about women's roles in other parts of the world and encourages them to speak up," West said.

The chapter's most recent dinner, held Feb. 10, raised money for Midwives for Haiti. Haiti has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. The organization recognizes the disadvantages women in many countries face and that investing in women is the best way to fight global poverty.

"Even the United Nations recognizes that women are an important part of solving the problem of worldwide poverty across the world," West said. "Women are not as involved as they should be."

The two Piedmont women were attracted to Dining for Women's philosophy that empowerment, education and added life skills go a long way toward solving the root causes of poverty across the world.

"I thought it's such a great way to think globally but act locally," West said.

For Nakashima, the allure of Dining for Women rests with its similarity to things she holds dear to her heart -- family, friends and food.

"Nurturing the ones you love comes easily through food, and I think this belief is a universal one that comes naturally to women around the world," she said. "To have this connection with women globally makes you realize we are not that different in our values but so far apart in opportunities. This is our way of aiding and giving back to our 'sisters' so they can achieve what they once thought was impossible."

FYI
For more information on Dining for Women, visit www.diningforwomen.org or call 864-335-8401.