Bluegrass Women's Giving Circle has aided several charities

Think of giving circles as similar to food cooperatives, except giving circles fund bulk charitable giving rather than organic produce.

While many Kentucky residents might never have heard of the idea of giving circles, the idea is beginning to take hold in Lexington, where the member cooperative idea is used for religious-oriented charities.

The idea can be implemented a number of ways but generally works like this: Members contribute a set amount, study charities in which they have an interest, sometimes even visiting and working at the charities, and then make a lump sum donation.

For the Bluegrass Women's Giving Circle in Lexington, overseen by Callie Picardo of the Kentucky Christian Foundation, the donation is $35 a month or $350 paid all at once. With the current membership, that's $6,300 a year available for donation to Christian charitable causes.

"I really wanted a way to engage women in giving," said Picardo, who has been working with the giving circle for three years. "... It's really just the idea of people coming together, pooling their resources and giving grants to charities."

The Lexington circle started with six members, Picardo said, and is now at 18. Among the Christian non-profit organizations aided by the giving circle are Step By Step, a ministry for young single mothers, and Refuge for Women, which helps women leaving the sex industry.

Picardo is also working to start a giving circle in Louisville.

While the size of giving circles might fluctuate, Picardo said that the ones she works with probably will not exceed 20 members so that each member gets a chance to contribute not only financially but in terms of research and recommendations.

Isobel Chewning, owner of The Cotton Patch store, said she heard about the giving circle from Picardo and was intrigued. She has been a member for 18 months.

"It was a way for several women to make a bigger impact with a charity," Chewning said. "Instead of each of us giving a little bit here and there, we could learn more about all charities. I'm learning about wonderful charities that are in need that I had no idea about."

Lexington resident Jamie Shier was invited to the program by a friend shortly after hearing a sermon on "radical generosity." She liked the idea.

"I was interested in truly living generously in all areas of my life, and financially, certainly, this dovetailed perfectly," Shier said. "As I attended more of the meetings, I was so excited about just learning about the different community ministries and seeing how God is moving and working in this community."

Chewning said the process reminded her of the Junior League charity selection, in which groups would make their case for funding.

Said Picardo, who is, at 27, the youngest member of the Lexington group: "We wanted to be intentional about having women of all ages and, though we're Christian, of all denominations."

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