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"The Original Men Who Cook" took place last Saturday evening, June 3, poolside of the Hilton Trinidad & Conference Centre. Since the Women's Organisation For The Underprivileged (WOUP) started this fund-raising event twelve years ago, there have been many spin-offs, none of which has detracted from the large number of men who eagerly look forward to cooking each year, and the large crowd who annually find themselves on a waiting list for tickets if they did not book early. "Many have tried, unsuccessfully, each year to obtain tickets for The Original Men Who Cook. Repeat patrons leave very little room for newcomers. This is a clear indication of the cooks' culinary skills" says public relations officer, Heather Walcott.

This extremely successful method of raising funds was introduced to WOUP by Myrna Chapman, a former member who had gone on holiday to the United States and saw an event called "Celebrity Cooks" where people of note, cooked. "She brought the idea back" says WOUP president, Gail Weekes "and we started with twenty-four cooks on Carol Percy's Valsayn lawn. Last Saturday we had ninety-one cooks and should make about $70,000.00"

The organisation itself started in 1979 when six women got together at a friend's home to discuss possible ways of assisting the growing underprivileged in our country. The result was the birth of WOUP, which was registered under the laws of Trinidad and Tobago in 1988.

From its inception WOUP's membership has never exceeded the seventeen at which it now stands because says Weekes "we meet at a home and don't have a place to accommodate a lot of members. Also we get better input from our members; it is easier to call a meeting and the group remains very personal the way it is."

"If a member leaves for whatever reason, we would invite someone to replace her, but there are no plans to increase our membership to more than twenty" explained Walcott, who herself only joined WOUP about two years ago.

Barbara Carter is patron of the group which started with fund-raisers, such as, a Carnival fete, cake sales, a tea party and fashion show at the Hilton "which was very well attended", and the more recent stay-at- home tea, a very novel idea where you are sent a tea bag invitation to have tea at your own home. "We put a tea bag in an envelope and asked for a small donation and on Easter Sunday you have your cup of tea at home."

The Annual General Meeting is the first meeting in the year, complete with reports from the secretary and treasurer and election of a new executive. After which meetings take place on the first Monday in each month. The executive for 2000 made up of Weekes (a foundation member), Ava Dhanoosingh, Winnie Archbald, Sandra Mc Shine, Walcott and Joyce Henderson, is already planning an October brunch, details of which will be published at a later date.

How do such a small group organise food/cooks to serve more than 800 persons at this most enjoyable function? "There are those who have cooked from the inception. Then one of us might hear of someone who can cook and you ask them 'what about men who cook'. They say sure and you keep them in mind" explained Weekes.

"Right now we even have sons of members and cooks who used to help bringing in stuff when they were younger, and now they are involved in the cooking as well, although some still help their fathers serve. This is why the intimacy of being a small group is so great, wives come to assist husbands, children and their friends become involved when we need extra young men to help, by drawing on our families and extended families we really don't see a need to have many, many members."

Each cook is asked for fifty servings. At the entrance, guests receive four main meal chits entitling them to select creatively-named dishes from any of the cooks who are arranged around the pool. WOUP gives green salads, and rice, macaroni and potato salads which were this year provided by Rib House. There is a chit for a welcome drink donated this year by Angostura Aromatic Bitters, and another for dessert.

For the first time this year, a random draw was done to give the large Angostura hamper to a cook, Stephen Lucas was the winner. "There can be no judging of dishes as it's difficult to choose the best from the best" said Weekes.

Included in the long list of door prizes from corporate sponsors, was a trip for two to Barbados from BWIA. The Hilton, as usual, was very supportive. In 1994, WOUP produced a Men Who Cook Recipe book, which is still on sale at all leading bookshops "in dedication to all the wonderful men who cook, for their continuing generosity in making our annual event such a success."

Since WOUP is very low-keyed in promoting what they do, most people will not realise the number of donations that they give, such as, buying of wheelchairs, helping people pay medical bills, transport for a child who lives far from her secondary school and would otherwise have to give up her scholarship. "We help a lot of individuals who normally would not have gotten help. You see the big needy organisations get help from big groups." says Walcott. An Education Fund has been started, from which, in 1999 WOUP completely outfitted children from twenty-four primary schools. "We are looking at including some secondary school children this year" says Weekes.

"We pick them up, take them to the dressmaker to measure, buy fabric, carry them to try on shoes, get book lists and fill them, school bags, lunch kits, pens and pencils, everything they need, so they go out to school first day in September looking and feeling as confident as their peers."

And finally, at Christmas there are hampers for the underprivileged. And a Christmas party for those who live in senior citizens homes. "We collect and bring them to a member's home for a meal, where they are entertained by senior citizens like themselves, called "Evergreens", and the young Yuletide Carollers who sing parang and carols" said Walcott.


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