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Banking on KC – Mary Bloch of Feeding KC Forward

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Kelly Scanlon:

Welcome to Banking on KC. I'm your host Kelly Scanlon. Thank you for joining us. With us on this episode is long-time Kansas City philanthropist and fundraiser, Mary Bloch. Mary also has a passion for all things surrounding food so many of you may have heard her dishing up thoughts on her favorite cuisines and gastronomic specialties on KCUR's The Food Critics, or read her food blog Around the Block. Today she's here to talk with us about her latest philanthropic endeavor, FEED KC Forward. Welcome, Mary.

Mary Bloch:

Thank you, Kelly. Happy to be here.

Kelly Scanlon:

Mary, your latest endeavor is a response to two situations that have been brought about by the pandemic. The first is struggling restaurants, and the other is that more people than ever are struggling to put food on the table. And you've come up with a way that addresses both of those situations. So tell us about this initiative and how you got involved in it.

Mary Bloch:

Kelly, this Community Carry Out St. Louis was started, obviously, in St. Louis by the owner of Pinnacle Imports. They are a distributor of liquor and wine here in Kansas City as well. One of the sales reps who lives in Kansas City has helped out at ShuttleCork, a food and wine fundraiser benefiting the Nelson-Atkins Museum that I co-founded and continue to chair, her name is Kathy Rolfing. And she reached out to me, I think, because of my role with ShuttleCork, as a result of which I have a good relationship with many chefs in town, also because I'm a food writer and have been a panelist on the KCUR Food Critics radio show, as you mentioned. So she knows I care a lot about the restaurant community here in Kansas City.

Mary Bloch:

When I heard about what they were doing in St. Louis, I was so sorry that I hadn't thought of it myself. But she brought it to me and said, "You know of anybody who might want to spearhead this?" And I thought, "Oh, this would be perfect," because I had been trying to figure out a way to help restaurants and the hungry during the pandemic, but I'm in my 60s and I didn't want to do anything where I would be interacting with the public, and this was something that I could do from my home in front of a computer.

Kelly Scanlon:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mary Bloch:

And when she described it to me, it seemed like a win-win for everyone. And it is because, as you mentioned, the effort helps restaurants survive during the winter, with indoor dining rather limited and outdoor dining very difficult. And we're also addressing food insecurity issues that are heightened because people are out of work or making less money than they were before the pandemic.

Mary Bloch:

So FEED KC Forward operates on a slightly different model than Community Carry Out St. Louis but it's the same basic premise. We're using the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation as the host of the funds. So people donate money and it goes into the field of interest fund that I set up there. And I'm chairing an administrative committee as part of that. And we will be making grants to can Kanbe’s Markets.

Mary Bloch:

Now, Kanbe’s Market is an organization that's trying to eliminate food deserts in Kansas City so they were the perfect partner for us.

Kelly Scanlon:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mary Bloch:

And they are serving as our fiscal sponsor. Restaurants that participate get a $5,000 stipend, which they can use to prepare 250 or 300 meals, and the rest can be used for expenses that would be incurred in the preparation of those meals, including keeping the lights on, staffing, and all the things that are associated with opening a restaurant every day. And Kanbe’s and the Prospect, headed by Shanita Bryant, coordinate the restaurants and the agencies, pairing them together geographically and with any special needs, like if we have a restaurant that typically produces spicy meals, we want to make sure that that's not going to go to an elderly population.

Kelly Scanlon:

And so how's the food distributed? Do you distribute it through agencies? How does that work?

Mary Bloch:

Agencies will apply, and once the restaurants sign-on and the agencies are accepted and we pair them together, a restaurant will actually make the deliveries right to the agency site. It's not house-by-house but a central point.

Kelly Scanlon:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mary Bloch:

And if the restaurant, for some reason, can't make the delivery, that shouldn't preclude them from applying to participate because Kanbe’s has a delivery truck and they can step in and make those deliveries.

Kelly Scanlon:

The effort has been underway for a few weeks now. How many restaurants are currently involved and how many people has the program impacted?

Mary Bloch:

So we have more than 25 restaurants involved and more than, I would say, several dozen agencies throughout the community. So we've been able to distribute close to 10,000 meals at this point.

Kelly Scanlon:

Oh, that's phenomenal. That's great. So you plan to continue the program through the pandemic for restaurants or for agencies that are not yet participating. Are you still accepting new entrance into the program?

Mary Bloch:

We absolutely are. If you go to the Facebook page I set up, FEED KC Forward, you will find the links to sign up if you're a restaurant, a link for the agencies, and if you want to donate that link is available as well. If you don't have access to a Facebook page, you could email me directly at FEEDKCForward@gmail.com, and I can send you the links.

Kelly Scanlon:

You mentioned that you accept donations, there is a fund set up. Can those come from the general public?

Mary Bloch:

Absolutely. We are getting them from the general public, I've been soliciting corporations and foundations, friends. A lot of people in the community are just giving their credit card or sending in a check. If you happen to have a donor-advised fund at the Community Foundation, it's an easy transfer. And we've raised more than $250,000 so far. And the more we raise, the more we can continue to help these restaurants and provide meals to the hungry.

Kelly Scanlon:

But if you go out to Facebook, FEED KC Forward, all of the information that anybody needs, whether you're a restaurant, whether you're an agency, or whether you're someone who wants to help support this initiative, you can do all that there on the Facebook page.

Mary Bloch:

That's correct. And I pin the links at the very top so you don't have to scroll through pictures and logos and all of that. It's very easy to find.

Kelly Scanlon:

FEED KC Forward is just one of many fundraisers that you have spearheaded in Kansas City throughout the years. You've mentioned another one a few minutes ago and that is ShuttleCork, which is a fundraiser for the Nelson. Where did that idea come from?

Mary Bloch:

Paul DeBruce, whom I knew peripherally, had attended the Atlanta High Auction, which is a wine auction for the art museum there, and he thought it would be great if this could be done in Kansas City as a benefit for the Nelson. So he invited my husband and me to go to Atlanta and see the event. And we were just blown away. It was so much fun. And he asked my husband if he wanted to start this fundraiser with him to benefit the Nelson. He laughed. He said, "Paul, you've got the wrong Bloch." And he suggested that I do it instead. And given my love of food and wine and our family's connection to the museum, it was an easy decision and is by far the most fun project to raise money that I've ever been involved with.

Kelly Scanlon:

It is a very, very fun event. And as you say, for a great cause. It's an annual event, it occurs in the spring, but what do participants experience?

Mary Bloch:

So wine lovers will get to taste wines that are typically very hard to access. And if you're a benefactor, you attend a winemaker dinner the first evening in a beautiful home in Kansas City where you actually get to interact with the winemakers or vineyard owners who we bring in from the west coast, very small intimate dinners, and some of our best chefs from Kansas City pair those wines with fabulous food for a really memorable evening.

Mary Bloch:

And then the second night is at the Nelson and we call it our Grand Tasting and Auction. We have about 500 guests, it sells out every year, and they can mingle in Rozzelle Court and Kirkwood Hall for a couple of hours, sampling wines from more than 25 wineries, nothing you'd find in a grocery store, at Costco. These are really fine wines. And then we have about 20 local restaurants providing small plates. And you can, again, talk to the winemakers as they pour for you.

Mary Bloch:

And then you go out into a tent on the lawn of the Nelson and we have a big auction, with an auctioneer from San Francisco, who auctions off wine-related lots like trips and some great wine. I'd say we've raised more than 6 million dollars since the inception. We raise over a million dollars a year. So it's great fun and a great cause and we do really well I'm happy to say,

Kelly Scanlon:

Yeah, it is a lot of fun. And the two different events are two separate tickets. The Friday night event, which is the tasting at the Nelson, is something completely different than the Thursday night dinners, correct?

Mary Bloch:

If you do a Thursday night ticket you automatically get the Friday night.

Kelly Scanlon:

Right.

Mary Bloch:

That encompasses both. But you certainly can do just the Friday night, which is a very reasonable ticket and you get a lot of value for it in that you certainly can do separately.

Kelly Scanlon:

And this year, like so many events, the format will be different. You're still going to hold it, but it will be virtual. So tell us about what we'll see this year.

Mary Bloch:

We had no choice, Kelly, as you can imagine, but to go virtual this year. As you said, it's one night only, April 30th, no winemaker dinners, but we will be delivering great wine and food for our top donors who will also then be able to participate in Zoom tastings with the winemakers that I mentioned, who are always a part of this. And I know people are tired of virtual events, but a Live auction online really can still be very fun and exciting. And we're hoping to raise a lot of money for the Nelson, which desperately needs it, as you can imagine.

Kelly Scanlon:

And this will be available for the public to sign up when?

Mary Bloch:

We do have a website, shuttlecork.org.

Kelly Scanlon:

It's a great fundraiser for the Nelson, an iconic part of Kansas City, and you have a lot of fun in the process.

Mary Bloch:

We do.

Kelly Scanlon:

You seem to have a lot of fun with food. I mean, it comes through in your writing, it comes through in your commentary on the show on KCUR. You're a lawyer by training. How did a former lawyer become a food critic?

Mary Bloch:

It's a really good question, isn't it? After spending about 25 years working on projects and serving on boards in the community and, not coincidentally, when I turned 50, I decided I really wanted to do something for me where I can put some other passions to use. I've always loved exploring fun restaurants whenever we travel, and I'm typically a source for my friends, looking for recommendations around the country. They call me and say, "Mary, I'm going to Santa Fe, where should I eat?" And I love to cook. So it just felt like there was something I could do with that, and parlay that into a job of sorts.

Mary Bloch:

I started doing some food writing, though I should admit that being a good legal writer doesn't necessarily translate well into creative writing, but it was a way for me to get on the KCR Food Critic show and that was something I really aspired to do.

Kelly Scanlon:

Well, I've read your blog and you are fun when you write.

Mary Bloch:

Thank you. I do enjoy it, and it's a subject that I know a lot about so it's easy to write about.

Kelly Scanlon:

Of the many philanthropic and fundraising efforts that you've been involved with, and your husband, Tom, alongside you with many of them, what has been most fulfilling about those?

Mary Bloch:

Kelly, I decided early on that I wanted to focus my efforts on educational endeavors, and I wanted to be involved in the project rather than just writing a check and giving money.

Kelly Scanlon:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mary Bloch:

Some of my favorites over the years would include EarthWorks, which I founded with six other women years ago, it was a curriculum-based science experience for third and fourth graders in Kansas City based on the Exchange City concept, which we housed in the caves in Hunt Midwest. I was a part of the union station board during the renovation and chaired the board during some of its most turbulent time so it's been very gratifying to see how it's doing now. And it's truly the front porch of the community as we envisioned back in 1999, when we first reopened those doors.

Kelly Scanlon:

Oh, the exhibits they've been able to attract to that have been amazing.

Mary Bloch:

I know. And there's one coming up on Auschwitz that's going to be just incredible, I think. And the dinosaur one, of course...

Kelly Scanlon:

Yes.

Mary Bloch:

... every kid loved.

Kelly Scanlon:

And then, as you mentioned...

Mary Bloch:

My husband and I have done some projects together. And one, he was one of the founders of University Academy. And I started their fundraiser years ago to help raise money. It's a public school even though it's a charter school and the state doesn't come close to providing enough money to the school on a per-pupil basis. And though we're not still involved in the school, we're very proud of its successes.

Mary Bloch:

And then one last one I would mention is that I've been involved with the Bloch School's Regnier Institute, Entrepreneur of the Year awards for past 15 years or so. And that was something that my father-in-law, Henry Bloch, of course, cared deeply about. So I was happy to be a part of that endeavor and continue to be.

Mary Bloch:

But, you know, Kelly, mostly I just really enjoyed being a part of this wonderful community. Kansas Citians are really generous, which is one reason Tom and I are happy to live here and do what we can to have a positive impact on it.

Kelly Scanlon:

Yeah. Well, and Kansas City is the community it is because of people like you, your father-in-law, your husband, and many, many others, and just ordinary Kansas Citians who step up to the plate and help to make Kansas City a better community and help support so many of the agencies here that makes Kansas City a better place.

Kelly Scanlon:

Mary, thank you so much for your time today. Thank you so much for what you're doing in the community. Good luck with all of your endeavors.

Mary Bloch:

Thank you, Kelly. And thank you for having me on and letting me get the word out about FEED KC Forward. I really appreciate it.

Kelly Scanlon:

You bet. And so FEED KC Forward, go out to Facebook and there is a page up. You can find out if you're a restaurant, if you're an agency, or if you're someone who wants to contribute to support it, then you can do that right there on the Facebook page. And also, be on the lookout for the announcements about ShuttleCork, which is coming up here real soon as well. Thanks again, Mary.

Mary Bloch:

Thank you.

Joe Close:

This is Joe Close, President of Country Club Bank. Thank you to Mary Bloch for being our guest on this episode of Banking on KC. As Mary said, Kansas City is fortunate to be home to so many generous people. Mary and her husband, Tom, are two of those people. Over the years, they have both worked tirelessly to raise awareness of and to support various causes that had helped Kansas City thrive. FEED KC Forward, Mary's latest initiative, is just one of many.

Joe Close:

The good news is that our entire community can participate in the FEED KC Forward effort. Through our donations, we can help both the hungry among us and the restaurants that have been hurt by the pandemic. Remember, there is no limit to what we can accomplish as a community when we're all in it together. Thanks for tuning in this week, we're banking on you, Kansas City. Country Club Bank, member FDIC.