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Woman’s charity encourages eating at home, helping globally

HOLMES BEACH — Jean Peelen has tried on many titles during a lifetime of reinvention.

Author. Model. Lawyer. Talk-show host. Political candidate.

Tonight, the 69-year-old Holmes Beach woman becomes philanthropist when she hosts the first meeting of the Anna Maria Island chapter of Dining for Women, a national organization that coordinates donations to support international women’s causes.

“I’ve always been involved in something, but never anything quite like this,” Peelen said.

A high school friend told Peelen about Dining for Women. The cause has generated considerable local buzz through media reports and word of mouth, she said.

Twenty-two people, only two of whom are Peelen’s close friends, are expected to bring a dish to tonight’s potluck dinner, she said.

The women will donate more than culinary expertise. The group, which will meet monthly, will pool cash its members would have spent if they had dined at a restaurant to give to girls and women in developing parts of the world.

“The exciting thing is these aren’t people who are saying, ‘Yeah, I might be interested.’ They’re saying, ‘Wow, what a great idea.’ It’s such a painless thing,” Peelen said.

Peelen, a former civil rights lawyer who decided to attend law school after a divorce, is the co-author of two books on senior living and hosts the show “Gray Matters” on WSLR-FM, a public-access radio station in Sarasota.

She also demonstrates skin wrinkle cream on the Home Shopping Network. And earlier this week, she filed to run for Holmes Beach city commissioner.

In 2003, Peelen was one of 22 finalists to be in the cast of the CBS show “Survivor — Pearl Islands.” She would have been the oldest woman on the show to that point, but she didn’t make the 16-member cast.

Peelen said she won’t be cooking for tonight’s dinner. Chef is not yet one of her titles.

But she’s not worried about the group going hungry. She has 22 determined cooks.

Most of the local Dining for Women members live on the island or in Sarasota, Peelen said. She’s still waiting for her first Bradenton member. But she can wait until next month.

“I was shocked, I have to tell you,” she said of members’ enthusiasm for the first meeting. “I was hoping no one else calls because my little house is going to get crowded.”

Dining for Women began in 2003, when former nurse Marsha Wallace hosted a meeting at her Greenville, S.C., home. Since then, chapters have raised more than $600,000 for international organizations.

There are more than 150 Dining for Women chapters in the United States, including a snowbird group in Venice.

“The organization’s goal,” Wallace said, “is to establish Dining for Women chapters all over the globe, harnessing the power of collective giving to change the world one dinner at a time.”

This month, Dining for Women chapters across the country will benefit Nest, an organization that provides business training and loans to women in Morocco. To get members into the spirit, the Dining for Women website features recipes for Moroccan food. But participants may bring whatever dish they wish.

For more information about Dining for Women, call Peelen at (941) 896-5827.