Aiding and abetting
Durango’s Womenade gives a leg up to those in need

Womenade recipient Tiffany Bewley, a student in the accelerated program at Durango High School, catches up on some homework. Bewley, a first-generation college student, was given $400 to take classes at FLC./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

by Stew Mosberg

The overcast sky and threat of rain didn’t dampen the spirits or intentions of the women filling the Rochester Hotel’s courtyard. They came bearing trays of food, some with wine, and most importantly, their checkbooks. The get-together was the quarterly potluck for “Womenade,” and for the unfortunate few who would benefit from the gathering, it was an answer to their cry for help.

With scores of chapters across the country, Womenade was founded close to 10 years ago by an East Coast doctor and her friends as a way to provide assistance to women at a financial crossroads. The La Plata County group started in 2002. Although Womenade is based on a concept so simple it can be explained in a few sentences, the results can last a lifetime, whether they be for a single mom who can’t make her rent, a teen-aged mother who needs gas money to get to her job, or a widowed father needing to pay for dental work for his children. The donations are relatively small, typically a few hundred dollars or less, but for those who have fallen on hard times, it can be insurmountable. With no place else to turn, the temporarily hapless might be sent to Womenade by a social service worker. From there, it is up to the potluck group to take over.

One young recipient, Tiffany Bewley, a student in the accelerated program at Durango High School, needed tuition to attend Fort Lewis College. As a first generation college student, her advisor recommended Bewley apply to Womenade for assistance. Bewley recalls leaving the amount of her request open. “I just felt that even if they can’t give everything, a little is a lot,” she said. “I was overwhelmed by their help. They gave me $400, and it allowed me to start classes this past September.”

Womenade has no official membership, no office, not even a formal business structure. Originally the group used to meet at someone’s home, until it got too big. Now, venues like the Rochester Hotel have come forward to provide space to hold the potluck. The checkbook-toting attendees are asked to write a check for a minimum of $35 – the cost of eating dinner out – hence the “bring a dish” to the meeting concept. In order to make donations tax deductible, Womenade enlisted the Women’s Resource Center as a conduit for contributions and information.

An attendee at the quarterly Womenade potluck writes out a check for the program. Attendees are asked to donate $35, the price of a dinner out./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

Other than the utter simplicity of the organization’s process, the real beauty is that it allows every penny to get into the hands of recipients. Not a dime goes to administrative costs, salaries, rent or even marketing. In a world where nonprofit salaries and administrative costs eat up a good deal of donation money, it is pure altruism that guides Womenade. And incidentally, it isn’t a women-only association; men are welcome, both as participants or recipients. As one attendee half-jokingly pointed out, “It’s a great way to meet women who can cook!”

Noel Tambre, a member for more than two years, said the appeal for her has always been that the idea is so direct and simple. “There’s no fund raising, and you know exactly where the money is going.” Indeed, some recipients even go on to later become contributors.

Volunteer administrator Christina Knickerbocker helps verify that each financial applicant has a need for the requested sum, adding that the donation is a one-time-only option. “We don’t enable recipients,” she said.

The number of requests at any given meeting are pared down to the most critical and then presented to the attendees for an anonymous vote. Those receiving the most votes are given first priority and so on down the list. If a thousand dollars is collected that evening, that is what is distributed. If the number one choice needs a thousand dollars, then that person will receive all the money. If, on a good night, there’s money leftover, it goes into a bank account until the next meeting.

The sadness at some meetings, such as the last one when attendees realized they couldn’t fulfill all the requests, can be heartbreaking. To offset the deficiency, one woman sighed and said, “I’ll make up thedifference,” tugged at her purse – and heartstrings – and said, “Here’s a check."

To seek assistance from Womenade or for more information, stop by the Women’s Resource Center at 679 E. 2nd Ave., Unit #6; call 247-1242; or e-mail



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