It’s important, in the midst of all the bustle and hum of this season, to look out for “the one in front of you.” We can theorize, discuss and whittle down theories on how to change the world, but it’s our conviction here that until we begin to reach out with our very own hands and see inside the world of those around us, our words are meaningless.
That’s why this holiday season, we at Darling wanted to spend some time bringing encouragement and celebration to a group of women who are living in a kind of grace and courage that’s rare and staggering.
We spent our Thursday night last week at a Darling Dinner with the women at the Downtown Women’s Center (DWC) in downtown Los Angeles. Around 70 women who have transitioned out of homelessness and now live at the DWC Residencies sat down to a holiday dinner served by the Darling staff and extended family.
Whenever we put on a Darling dinner, retreat or gathering, one of our highest intentions is to remind each woman attending that life is about more than survival or ticking off boxes of event attendance; we gather to create space for celebration.
Our night at the DWC was one of the most meaningful of these to date, as we partnered with a community that has been working tirelessly in this capacity to honor and equip women — in every way — who have struggled to be included and seen in society. Founded in 1978, the Downtown Women’s Center is the only organization dedicated exclusively to women. It was founded through a friendship between a homeless woman named Rosa and an outreach worker Jill Halverson.
The DWC has a mission “to provide permanent supportive house and a safe and healthy community fostering dignity, respect, and personal stability, and to advocate ending homelessness for women.” They house women who have experienced chronic homelessness, using the Housing First model, and have 119 apartments to this purpose. The model makes certain that the women have individualized support, and provides medical and mental health care, education and job readiness programs.
In other words, the DWC isn’t just providing food and shelter; they are enabling women to make the change they need, one step at a time.
This evening was a moment where we saw many people come together to give what they could to pay tribute to the dedication, courage and kindness displayed by this community. Darling had no trouble finding help in collaborators; as we reached out, we had immediate responses of those donating their time, resource and talents to make this evening memorable. Felix Barron, Chef and Owner of KTCHN LA, jumped on board and curated and created the entire menu.
La Tavola Linen lent us the beautiful table linens and napkins that helped transform the room into something festive. All Darling dinners have special floral arrangements, and with the beautiful designs by Michael Habicht from his cutting-edge event planning company iii Designs, this one was no different. Habicht is an expert at bringing that extra something special to events and is a talented planner, designer and artist. Classic Party Rentals, true to their name, provided all the elements for beautiful table settings.
Finally, each woman received a beautiful ornament donated by our friends at Magnolia, spelling out the word “hope.” They selected it in person as a message for the women here in Los Angeles and it really was in line with what the entire night was about.
Guests began to arrive around 6:15 pm and were so warm and friendly as they checked in for dinner. Many of them had gotten dressed up especially for the evening, with festive Christmas wear and colors on display. By 6:45 everyone had arrived and began to finish off the delicious salads and fresh bread already on the tables.
Once settled in, Sarah Dubbeldam addressed everyone, thanking them for spending their time celebrating the season with us and taking a raffle to help decide which residents would be taking the many stunning floral displays up to their rooms with them. During the main course, which consisted of piles of delicious roasted chicken, greens, vegetables and herbed rice, it was so fun to hear women exclaiming to each other over not just the food, but the space’s decoration and joy; the highlight consisted of a dance party mid-meal, initiated by our own Rebekah Shannon (and the DJ’s choice of classic Whitney Houston specials).
As we wrapped up with our chia puddings and guests began to leave for the night, we were struck by the dignity and grace of these women who so touched us with their kind hugs and goodbyes. It was truly an honor for the Darling team to be among them.
December is nearly halfway through and this season we have seen some incredible ways in which you, our Darling community, have already reached out to those around you. We have in the past highlighted different organizations and methods in which we believe money, time and passion are well-invested, and this week the Darling family chose to do exactly that. Should you wish to donate to this incredible group at the DWC, you can do so here.
However you choose to give this holiday season, it’s with great joy and pride that we, the team, think of you as our community. This movement was begun because we wanted to see all women, regardless of race, economic status or religion, enabled and given access to the possibility of change, growth and an absolute sense of worth. Your kindness, support and action towards this common goal is making our dream a reality.
Photos by Valerie Pauley