Women & Family Life Center Brings Geno Auriemma to Virtual ‘Men Who Cook’ Event
For the past quarter-century, the Women & Family Life Center’s (WFLC) Men Who Cook fundraiser has offered a lighthearted gathering of the shoreline community’s most passionate professional and amateur chefs, who have put up their favorite dishes to be enjoyed (and judged) by local foodies. Like everything else this year, Men Who Cook won’t look or feel the same, but WFLC is hosting a new virtual event on Sunday, Oct. 25 that seeks to provide some relief and inspiration (the latter courtesy of Geno Auriemma), bolster local businesses, and most important, allow the center to continue caring for those who are still deeply struggling during the pandemic.
“The need for our services has significantly grown,” WFLC Executive Director Meghan Scanlon said. “And I don’t think it’s going to go away anytime soon.”
The virtual Men Who Cook will allow people to sign up for a take-out meal from nine different local restaurants before joining a special video conference event, and seeks to continue the pageantry of the event, while adding an uplifting element catering to the “brave new world” of the pandemic, Scanlon said.
And while there won’t be an opportunity to sip and nibble dozens of home-cooked dishes all gathered together under one roof, people will still have a chance to sample some of the area’s finest cuisine while also supporting those local businesses, as some of the proceeds will go to the restaurants themselves—part of what WFLC Development Director Dawn Jackson said is an understanding that everyone needs to support each other in this time.
“There’s an uncertain air about what’s going to be a business model for restaurants with outdoor dining,” Jackson said. “The theme, ‘Together we are stronger,’ we really hold [that] true to our hearts.”
Those who purchase a ticket can choose a meal, which includes an appetizer and an entrée, from one of the nine restaurants or skip the meal and just buy a ticket for the event.
Among the other parts of the event is an upcoming online auction, which will launch in advance of the Oct. 25 date, along with a special guest at the virtual event.
Eleven-time National Championship-winning UConn basketball coach Geno Auriemma will be the event’s keynote speaker, and Scanlon said it was “really fitting” to bring someone with his background to speak on behalf of WFLC, drawing a parallel between uplifting and supporting women through sports and the everyday work the center does.
“We’re really fortunate and grateful to him to lend his voice to our cause and to support the center. It’s hopefully an exciting draw for some folks to hear what he has to say,” Scanlon said.
As a UConn graduate and basketball fan herself, Scanlon laughed she was “very nervous” when reaching out to Auriemma.
“I think people will really appreciate what he’s going to talk about and how it’s so relevant to people coming through really difficult challenges and rising to the occasion,” Scanlon said.
Scanlon said she didn’t want to give away the surprise of what the virtual event will look like, but said there will also be personal testimonials from women who have been served by WFLC, detailing their experiences there.
Since March, WFLC has seen a tremendous influx in its workload and clientele, according to Jackson, and has quickly worked to adapt to the new circumstances.
“We were able to pivot within 48 hours to have our social workers go online, to have virtual appointments, to still be there as a solid steady resource for these women in our community,” Jackson said.
In late March, the center took over a program to pay out small, one-time grants to individuals through a fund created by the Guilford Foundation. It also quickly transitioned back to seeing clients in person on a limited basis in July, according to Jackson, as the kind of problems the center often deals with—food insecurity, mental health, domestic violence, and legal and employment issues—continued to see sharp increases during the pandemic.
Scanlon said she was “really proud” of how the small center was able to adapt quickly, saying they have received hundreds of thank-you notes from people who have been welcomed and aided by WFLC during the pandemic, which remains open to everyone, not just Guilford or shoreline residents.
The Men Who Cook fundraiser is especially important now, as it normally provides around one-third of WLFC’s total fundraising each year, according to Scanlon.
As government programs such as rental and mortgage relief and unemployment insurance come to an end in the coming months, Scanlon said she expects some people to struggle more rather than less, even as the state opens up.
“Women are typically making these head-of-household decisions whether they’re single or not,” Scanlon said. “And their wages are not increasing, and their cost of living is going up. And they’re just really struggling to make it out even at the end of the month...I think people have just reached their limit.”
With little indication of an imminent end to the pandemic and no certainty of immediate economic recovery, Scanlon said that WFLC is in for the long haul to help those in need, and hopefully the larger Guilford community is as well.
The work we’re doing is local, but it’s so important, and it’s essentially why we exist...the one-on-one human connections and success,” Scanlon said.
To purchase tickets for Men Who Cook, visit womenandfamilylife.org/men-who-cook or contact Dawn Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about WFLC and its programs, visit womenandfamilylife.org or call 203-458-6699.