Out East End: North Fork Women – 30 Years Strong

The North Fork Women at their Oyster Extravaganza
The North Fork Women at their Oyster Extravaganza
Courtesy NFW

If the North Fork is on fire, then North Fork Women (NFW), a not-for-profit organization committed to “building a safe, healthy and active community for lesbians on the North Fork,” is a constant flame.

Established in 1992, the group (formerly known as North Fork Women for Women) may now have a shorter, easier-to-pronounce name, but it has a long history of providing financial assistance, healthcare support and personal support to those who need it.

Chris P’Simer, the current president of NFW, put the group’s history and mission in perspective: “Thirty years ago, a couple of women were sitting in someone’s living room or kitchen and one said to the other, ‘What would you do if you wanted to help lesbians on the North Fork?’ and she said, ‘I would start an organization where we can give grants to women who are underinsured or uninsured and need a procedure or whatever it is.’ …  And so it began.”

Citing “a large lesbian community in Orient and Greenport,” P’Simer says, “That’s where everything started and it just stayed up here.”

Today, North Fork Women is “better than ever,” says P’Simer, who lives in Cutchogue. She proudly shares, “In our 30 years of existence, we’ve given out over $340,000 in grants.” This year, P’Simer estimates NFW has given about $8,000 in grants, and she expects the group will give out more by the end of the year when her two-year term ends.

That means giving assistance for medical needs and out-of-pocket costs (mammograms, annual physicals, co-payments, dental, eye exams and other expenses), as well as grants for non-medical needs (car repairs and unexpected home expenses, for example).

You don’t have to be a lesbian or a North Forker to appreciate all that NFW offers, but you do have to be a self-identifying lesbian who lives either full-time, part-time or seasonally on the North Fork — from Riverhead to Orient and Shelter Island — to sign up for free membership and apply for one of its grants. The events and programs are open to the public, and the weekly newsletter, which blasts to over 900 people, is free and open to all who want to know about what’s happening with NFW.

Lori Cohen, Chris P'Simer and Kathy Bresnan
Lori Cohen, Chris P’Simer and Kathy BresnanCourtesy NFW

“We are very careful about who we give grants to, and we have a limit on how much we give anyone,” says P’Simer. “The goal is to continue to help lesbians on the North Fork, and when I say help, I mean in any way we can,” she emphasizes.

If a member needs assistance running errands, picking up medication, walking the dog or someone to do the grocery shopping or deliver a hot meal, NFW has a network of volunteers who can help with that.

There is LifeLine emergency assistance, wellness check-ins, a program called HelpHer and a host of year-round in-person and virtual programs to educate and invigorate, including free exercise and yoga classes for members.

And then, there are the social events — which have returned in person after a COVID pause as ”cautiously and as safely as possible.” The popular First Friday Friends (FFF) gatherings came back in August at the Greenport Harbor Brewing Company in Peconic and in October at the American Beech Restaurant in Greenport. The next FFF is November 5 at the Stonewalls Restaurant in Riverhead.

Two of NFW’s major fundraising events were hugely successful this year, the recent all-you-can-eat Oyster Extravaganza held at Little Creek Oyster Farm in Greenport — which P’Simer says drew 81 registrants,  “the largest number we ever had” — and the sold-out Labor Day event at Founders Landing in Southold, which she says raised over $18,000 for NFW with the auction.

The events drew not only good turnouts, but a bit of South Fork envy. “We had some South Fork people at the auction event, and they were just going really wild about it and saying how lucky the North Fork folks are to have that,” says P’Simer, with a soft laugh.

She describes the people involved in the organization as “extremely dedicated” and says many of them have been with NFW for 30 years, “giving their time and still coming to events, still participating and still donating. It’s amazing!”

The organization is run by a volunteer board of seven to 10 women, who meet once a month, and Administrative Director Barbara Pfanz. P’Simer just drafted her end-of-year appeal letter asking for donations to help support the grants and programs.

In terms of the age range of its members, P’Simer says, “The majority of people are older women, (but we) have started to see more young people coming to our events — not a lot, but more than we’ve had in the past.” P’Simer also points out that two women the board is considering as new board members are “both in their 40s.”

As NFW continues to grow and develop, one thing is for certain: It’s a pretty unique group, by any standards.

“I don’t know of anything that’s like what we do,” says P’Simer. “We support our folks and that’s really important to us.”

For more information about North Fork Women, membership, newsletter sign-up, grant applications and info about events, visit northforkwomen.org.

North Fork Women Upcoming Event:

FIRST FRIDAY FRIENDS @ STONEWALLS
Friday, November 5, 6–7 p.m.
Stonewalls Restaurant, 967 Reeves Avenue, Riverhead

Meet, mix and mingle.

Contact North Fork Women at [email protected] or call 631-477-8464.

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