Cooking for a Cause

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When a couple is given the happy news that they are adding to their family with a baby, the enthusiastic planning begins. There are car seats to test, nurseries to decorate and names to choose as the nesting begins. When the news delivered is that the family is multiplying with twins, the planning and excitement doubles, but then again, so do the concerns of all that could possibly go wrong before they enter the world.

For Sarah Spencer, those concerns caught her unexpectedly off-guard in the middle of a normal, healthy pregnancy. “Everything was on track,” she recalls, “and then, out of nowhere, I was in labor. With twins, you don’t expect to get to full-term, but we never imagined delivering at only 28 weeks. It was very unexpected, very shocking – the last thing we were expecting to find out.”

Sarah found herself in the hospital in Labor and Delivery for six excruciating and difficult days, going into labor far too early. “I set some goals to try and buy the boys as much time as I could,” she says. “Through research that the March of Dimes has done, I knew that could give them the best fighting chance. Those six days really helped the boys when they were born.”

Stories like these are all too familiar to the March of Dimes. It’s a national organization, originally founded by Franklin Delano Roosevelt to fight polio; when the polio vaccine eradicated that disease, the March of Dimes moved on to fighting infant mortality.

“The March of Dimes organization is talking about our most vulnerable population,” adds Sarah’s husband Brad Spencer. “These days, you have babies born at 25 weeks, and a couple decades ago, that was never even a possibility. You have families’ lives that are changed forever and babies that are born with a much higher chance of having a normal childhood and adulthood.”

Research has led to greater developmental and medical knowledge that helped infants like the Spencer twins grow until they could both breathe and eat on their own – the criteria for allowing a premature infant to leave the hospital. The March of Dimes also provided support in the form of meetings, connections with other parents and families, and educational research to prepare the new parents for what would happen as their babies developed. “You never know if you’re going to be a family that is affected by the March of Dimes,” Sarah says. “Our boys spent 63 days in the hospital before they could come home. It was definitely a long roller coaster ride, but we were fortunate to have a happy ending to our story.”

Now, their vibrant and healthy 2-year-old twin boys will serve as the poster children for March of Dimes Louisville as the Spencer family gives back to the organization by serving as the 2016 Ambassador Family for this year’s Signature Chefs Auction, a food-tasting event held at the Louisville Marriott Downtown on November 10 with more than 30 local chefs and restaurants participating.

Photo by Ryan Noltemeyer

Photo by Ryan Noltemeyer

Stephanie Renner, general counsel for PBI Bank and chair of the event, describes what guests have come to expect from the annual celebrated event. “The best chefs in Louisville prepare a tasting of the food from their restaurants,” she explains. “There’s an open bar, an amazing live auction and a fantastic silent auction. You will hear about the mission of the March of Dimes through an ambassador family who tells their experience with premature birth.” She has been involved for years. “It’s very moving,” asserts Renner, “and it’s a cause everyone can get behind. We like to say that everyone is a March of Dimes baby because the research and the funding that have gone to preventing premature birth has really benefited us all.”

The event has been touted as one of the best tasting events in Louisville, and in a city renowned for its incredible inventive culinary talent, that is saying a lot. Signature Chefs Auction’s Head Chef Josh Moore of Volare agrees, stating, “It’s definitely an opportunity to interact with the chefs and meet them but also to try a lot of great food. On top of that, it’s such a great cause.” The list of participating restaurants spans a variety of food genres and includes many Louisville favorites, among them Anoosh, River House, Vincenzo’s, Cellar Door Chocolates, Harvest and Bistro 1860. “Some restaurants serve hors d’oeuvres, or a new dish they’re going to launch on their winter menu, or a sample of a signature dish,” Moore says. “It’s a great way to feel a part of the restaurant community for an evening. It’s such a talented group of chefs and restaurant owners who have a passion for philanthropy and want to give back to the community.”

Moore’s restaurant, Volare Italian Ristorante, will participate in Signature Chefs as well. “I myself was born two months premature at 7 months old,” Moore says. He quickly follows up with a joke. “I made up for it because I’m a big guy,” he says with a heartfelt laugh. But the poignancy isn’t lost; the March of Dimes and its mission has a very real and lasting impact on the babies that are born premature, an impact that lasts all the way into adulthood. “It’s just amazing to be able to help out,” Moore says.

The fundraising event will also feature both live and silent auctions. Dorothy Menish, the auction chair, explains that the auctions add a lot of spirit to the gala. “It’s not your traditional event,” she explains. “We raise money, but what we do is like a big cocktail party. We try to get people engaged, to have fun, to learn about March of Dimes and to raise a ton of money. We have all these chefs, all the food stations, which in turn is great for the restaurants. This is one of the most fun events I’ve ever been involved in, and it’s for a great cause.”

Dorothy’s husband, Bill Menish is the auctioneer. “I’ve been blown away by how incredible an event Signature Chefs is, and to join in was so tremendous,” he says. “There’s a big bourbon theme – no surprise there. There are experiences, trips, tremendous live auction items that people put so much time into generating – we’re great advocates of once-in-a-lifetime experiences, beyond the red velvet rope, you-have-to-get-it-today type auction packages.” He cites a few memorable ones – poker night with basketball’s famous Denny Crum as one (“You can’t just buy that anywhere!” he exclaims), and a custom dinner for 10 at Josh Moore’s farm as another.

Signature Chefs’ silent auction also adds something different from the typical ball or gala. “It’s a great interaction,” Bill says. “Most people are there because they understand, they want to give, and there’s different levels to give. They gather there for those babies, the children that need their help. It shows the support for the March of Dimes on behalf of the entire Louisville community.”

One can sense a universal enthusiasm surrounding Signature Chefs. “Our involvement is from the heart,” Dorothy explains. “If you want to have fun, be inspired and be proud of what you’re supporting, the March of Dimes event is the one. You’ll be thrilled to attend an event that touches these delicate lives because of what the March of Dimes provides, and you’ll leave being proud of the support that you’ve offered. It’s a must-attend.”

The sincerity, pride and dedication of these organizers is moving, and the stories even more so. Premature babies are, as Brad Spencer puts it, our most vulnerable population. Because of the March of Dimes, some of these children have a fighting chance that they might not otherwise have had. Families now have a chance to watch their babies grow up. “No one ever thinks they’re going to need this kind of help – and then something unexpected happens, and March of Dimes is there,” Dorothy says sincerely. “This is how we can help your baby and how we can help you.”

The Spencers know this all too well, and they are grateful for their happy ending.

“(Our twins) are perfect in every way, shape and form,” Sarah says with love in her voice. “They’re developmentally on track with full-term babies. They love running and playing outside and talk nonstop; they’re the two smartest little boys I’ve ever met.”  She pauses. “We can’t say enough great things about the work the March of Dimes does and their mission and all the nurses and doctors that helped to take care of our boys when they were born. I couldn’t be more thankful.” VT

The March of Dimes Signature Chefs Auction takes place at 6 p.m. on Thursday, November 10, at the Louisville Marriott Downtown. All donations are 100 percent tax deductible. For sponsorship, table or individual ticket inquiries, please contact Erika Rohrer at 502.473.6683.