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Dining theme central to efforts of international nonprofits to empower women and girls

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Marsha Wallace greets women in Nepal who are supported by a Dining For Women grant.By Jill Warren Lucas

Marsha Wallace is the first to admit she’s no foodie, but dining has come to play a central role in her personal and professional life.

More than a decade ago, the former nurse and mother of four saw a heart wrenching interview on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show with an Iraqi woman named Zainab Salbi, whose father served as Saddam Hussein’s personal pilot. Determined to become a champion of women survivors of war, Salbi established Women for Women International. The organization is founded on the belief that stronger women build stronger nations and society. Its mission of charity is to change the lives of women on a global scale.

Wallace was impressed by Salbi and filed her moving message as a mental note, like she does with many charitable concepts that affect her. Another was an idea she read about in a magazine. Instead of going out to celebrate a birthday in a restaurant, a woman gathered a group of friends for a potluck dinner. The friends then calculated the amount they would have spent on dining out and donated it to the honoree’s favorite charity.

“I was meditating one day when the idea hit me like a thunderbolt,” Wallace recalls during a call from her Greenville, S.C., office. “I had a birthday coming up and I decided to give this a try to raise money for Women to Women.”

The dinner party was such a success, and the participants felt so good about their role, that they decided to make such get-togethers a regular event. To facilitate the transparent transfer of funds, Wallace established a 501(c)3. Her organization, Dining for Women, now has more than 400 chapters around the world engaging more than 9,200 members. Collectively, they have raised more than $2.5 million to aid women and girls living in extreme poverty in 30 developing countries.

“It’s a simple model, but we are having a profound impact,” she says. “People who participate as members are transformed also. One of the women we connected with in Senegal wrote to say she was inspired to join the Peace Corps. A senior in one of our college programs has decided to study obstetrics with the intention of working in a developing country.”

Dining for Women is marking its 10th anniversary this week with a conference Thursday through Sunday in Greenville, S.C. The keynote speaker is Tara Abrahams, deputy director of 10×10, a global campaign to educate girls. The event also will feature a screening of Girls Rising, a documentary about 10×10’s social action campaign. For information or to register, visit diningforwomen.org/10year

“It’s funny to think that it all got started because I’m not much of a cook and liked the idea of people bringing food for a party at my house,” Wallace says with a laugh. “Who could have imagined then that so much could would come of it.”

ShareDining for Women continues to support Women to Women, and Salib returned the favor by including Wallace in a new project. Wallace and her organization are referenced in the newly released Share: The Cookbook That Celebrates Our Common Humanity. The handsomely produced collection includes a forward written by Meryl Streep, who notes that “nothing more beautifully conveys our interdependence than the food we eat.” It also features compelling stories about and by women whose lives have been improved by charities – and their efforts to share knowledge to empower other women to earn a living wage, educate their children and improve the health of their communities.

The book contains more than 100 global cuisine recipes.  Among the contributors are such culinary legends as Alice Waters, Jamie Oliver and Rene Redzepi; advocates Aung San Suu Kyi, Demond Tutu and Nelson Mandela; and a host of actors, musicians and others who use their celebrity to bring attention to humanitarian issues. Publisher Kyle Books has committed to donating 100 percent of its profits from the $40 volume to Women to Women.

Wallace is represented by a recipe for Roasted Tomato, Mozzarella and Arugula Pizza, which she concedes is not actually part of her repertoire. “I really don’t cook much but I was so happy that they invited me to be part of the book,” she says. “I love pizza so they helped me out.”

Ironically, Wallace is listed directly above Alice Waters in the contributor’s section – a coincidence that would thrill most would-be cookbook writers. “I’m responsible for getting a really big cake to our 10th anniversary celebration,” she says, “but I won’t be baking it myself.”

Lentil Salad by Alice Waters

This recipe is excerpted with permission from Share: The Cookbook That Celebrates Our Common Humanity (© 2013, Kyle Books). Additional recipes are available via the Amazon website.

I love to make this lentil salad as a nourishing lunch or as an accompaniment to dinner. There are so many possibilities and variations with this recipe – the salad can reflect any season beautifully.

1 cup green lentils
1-2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
3 scallions, finely chopped
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or cilantro, plus extra to serve
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 oz. peeled raw shrimp
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Prepare: 5 minutes / Cook: 40 minutes / Serves 4

  1. Place the lentils in a pan and cover with cold water by 2-3 inches. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes (adding more water if necessary) until the lentils are tender. Drain and reserve ½ cup of the cooking liquid.
  2. Toss the warm lentils with 1 tablespoon of the red wine vinegar and season with a little salt and freshly ground black pepper. Leave to stand for 5 minutes, then taste and add more salt and/or red wine vinegar, if needed. Add the extra virgin olive oil, shallots and scallions and mix well. Stir in the chopped parsley or cilantro. If the lentils seem dry or are hard to stir, loosen them with a little of the reserved cooking liquid.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a pan and cook the shrimp for 4-5 minutes until they are pink and opaque. Serve with the lentil salad, scattered with some chopped parsley or cilantro.Lentil Salad

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