“I still remember my time there vividly,” says Schiek. “The nicest, warmest, most giving people I’ve ever met were in Kenya. What little they had they were willing to share and that made a huge impression on me.”
Schiek’s personal and professional journey has taken her down roads she didn’t foresee then. She and her husband moved to Skaneateles several years ago, where she owns and operates Lucky Dogs Canine Services, a pet care and pet-sitting business. “I’m not using my degree,” Schiek says, “but I’ve always had an interest in helping people in other parts of the world.”
Two years ago, Schiek learned about Dining for Women, a “dining giving circle” dedicated to improving the lives of women in other parts of the world, “one dinner at a time.”
She was so taken by the “together we can make a difference” mission of DFW and its founder, Marsha Wallace, that she started a chapter in the Skaneateles area. That chapter has grown from a party of three—Schiek and two friends, gathered in her kitchen—to an email list of 150 members.
Most gatherings draw 20 to 25 women, who meet for a monthly potluck dinner, learn about a designated charity/international project, watch a short educational video and, typically, donate to Dining for Women the money they would have spent on dinner at a restaurant. Since its inception, Schiek’s chapter has helped to raise more than $24,000 for women in need, worldwide.
“It just clicked for me. It just made sense,” Schiek says of her attraction to Dining for Women and its mission. “It’s a great way to help other people while also educating ourselves. In the United States, you can get in a cocoon about what’s going on in other parts of the world.”
This month, participants learned about Women’s Earth Alliance, an organization that partners with women-focused community groups in Liberia and Sierra Leone to develop solutions to issues of water, food, land and climate change and provide women with training, resources and advocacy support.
Get-togethers follow a loose format: Assemble at appointed home or location for social time. Watch brief movie or video about charitable organization. Sit down for potluck dinner as diverse as the women who supply it—or, as is the case sometimes in Skaneateles, to multi-course meals prepared by the evening’s host.
“The food, I think, makes it more social,” Schiek says. “We all laugh and say we eat a much better meal than we would at any restaurant. Quite often, women are asking, ‘Can you email me that recipe?’
“It would not be the same type of get-together if it was only the education aspect without the food,” she adds. “Then it would be more like a lecture series. Every month, we find out in detail how a donation we make can help women. That’s a lot more meaningful than writing a check out to organization XYZ and putting it in the mail.”
The Skaneateles and Manlius chapters of DFW are two of 250 chapters worldwide, according to regional coordinator Jeannette Artini, of Camillus. Artini was invited to a DFW potluck in 2010 by her friend and neighbor, Sujini Ramachandar. She found the meetings to be enlightening and the personal connections to be enriching. It didn’t take her long, she says, to plunge in as a volunteer and advocate—the organization runs on the collective energy of them. Artini calls DFW’s mission of sisterhood and empowerment “my passion.”
The local chapters have seen a boost in interest and membership since NBC Nightly News aired a feature on Dining for Women during one of its “Making a Difference” segments in February. There are also two DFW chapters in the Ithaca area.
“What I love about it is it’s very grass-roots, at the donation level and at the receiving end,” says Deborah Monaco, who shares leadership of the Manlius DFW chapter with her friend, Eileen Perry. “At the same time, an advantage I don’t think we foresaw is we’re trying new foods. Usually one or two women will try to bring a dish native to the country of the charity we’re sponsoring.
“It really is a wonderful thing,” Monaco adds. “We’re meeting new people. We’re eating good food. We’re learning about women in other parts of the world and we’re learning about their needs.”
Networking and bonding: That’s the key to DFW’s organic growth, Schiek says. The Skaneateles chapter has grown one dinner and a few women at a time, through word of mouth, positive buzz and personal connections and invitations.
“Every month, we rotate the host duties, and we emphasize to please
tell your friends, your sister, your mother… and bring them,” she says.
“I really think that’s how women work. That’s how women are comfortable.
They trust their friends’ judgment.”
The Skaneateles chapter of Dining for Women meets the second Wednesday of each month; the Manlius chapter meets the third Thursday of each month. For more information, go to diningforwomen.org and click on “get involved’’ to locate a chapter near you.