Many of us use food and dining as a social outlet. We create various food related experiences and get-togethers with our friends and loved ones to fulfill our appetites and our social needs. As many have often done, one Pensacola couple ventured to start a supper club with friends to share their love for food. This dynamic power couple was not quite content with just having a dining club for their own personal pleasure, so they catapulted it into a cause. Steve and Shelley Black, along with a host of friends have turned their Bread & Table Club into a forceful and fun means to feed children who are going without enough food. Their desire was so strong that they established non-profit status and added Feeding the Gulf Coast as their partner. Shelley Black shares how she has met many new people and established great friendships through this mission of bringing food lovers together while helping undernourished children.
Interview with Shelley Black
Co-Founder of Bread & Table Club
What is the primary mission of Bread & Table Club?
To support local efforts to combat childhood hunger through a series of culinary events and experiences.
Bread and Table is all about engaging socially around food, cooking, and the pleasures of breaking bread with others.
When was it started and what was your inspiration?
Steve, my husband, and I started this club in the fall of 2016 for selfish reasons… we love food, and, love friends who love food! We looked around and saw there was nothing that brought these people and their passions together. We believe in the power of food to tell stories, enrich daily lives, deepen relationships, and forge connections with the world around us.
We took this wonderful concept a step forward in March 2017 and changed our status to a not for profit 501 C. This has enabled us to partner up with Feeding The Gulf Coast Children’s Backpack Program.
How did you choose your partnership with Feeding the Gulf Coast?
As a food and wine club, we knew we would fit best with a local charity that helps to feed the impoverished. We are so fortunate to have so many wonderful charitable organizations helping the less fortunate children in our communities, however, if a child consistently goes to bed hungry, so many of these programs become null and void.
The mission of Feeding the Gulf Coast’s Backpack Program is to meet the needs of chronically hungry children by providing them with nutritious and easy to prepare food to take home on weekends and school vacations when other resources are not available. This program is located at elementary schools that have a high incidence of children in need. Teachers distribute a pack of food to each participating child on Friday afternoons. This is done discreetly while the children are in recess so there is no social stigma attached to those who receive the food. The teachers are trained in advance to look for a multitude of signs in their students before reporting the number of children they believe face hunger issues in their homes. The names of the children receiving the meals through this program are kept confidential from the food bank and volunteers; only the teachers and the recipients are notified. Each bag contains enough food for six meals and two snacks.
What type of events do you have and are they exclusive to members?
We typically hold 1-2 larger community fundraising events. Our largest, Croquet & Rosé on the Bay is held in the spring. Unfortunately, this year due to COVID 19, we did have to cancel. However, all of the sponsors who previously signed up chose to donate 100% of their sponsorship fee directly to the backpack program. This enabled us to submit over $5000 without even holding this event this year! Our other large fundraiser is our Bon Vivant Chef Competition. Although you have to be a member to compete, we invite the public to come out to taste and vote. All of the proceeds from this event are going to the Backpack Program.
We hold approximately 8-10 smaller club gatherings throughout the year. As a food and wine club, each of these are culinary related. Some are smaller, more intimate gatherings held at members’ homes, local restaurants, beaches, etc. Some events are larger where we rent venues and bring in professionals. Either way, they are always unique and always fun. Some of the most recent … we have brought in a private chef for dinner in a beach penthouse, had dinner in the middle of a corn field, hosted a dinner in the dark with glow paint and necklaces as the only light to dine by. This fall we will be hosting a Safari evening at the new Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, cocktails with the giraffes and a South African wine paired dinner overlooking the animals.
How does one become a member?
We currently have 150 members, and all new members are referred by existing members only. We started with 20 of our closest friends, who then brought in their friends. It is still continuing to grow!
How did Bread & Table impact the community in the last year?
Besides raising the needed funds for our local children, I would have to say we have had a large impact in spreading the word of our wonderful culinary community. We are very active in the local food and wine scene as well as regular attendees at most all of our local restaurants. We consistently post the great experiences, favorite dishes, etc. on social media.
What is the most rewarding part of your involvement with the organization?
In 2017 when we became a 501C organization, we had approximately 60 members and 3 board members, counting myself. As of today, we are 150 members with a board of directors consisting of 14 people. It never ceases to amaze me at the personal friendships that are constantly made. I believe something wonderful happens when you sit down at a table and break bread with strangers for no other reason than to get to know the people around you. Watching as people discover personal connections they wouldn’t have found otherwise always makes me smile.
What is one thing you want readers to know about Bread & Table Club?
I have always thought this concept is something that could be repeated in many other communities. There is a reason it has grown so incredibly fast and members have been anxious to bring all of their friends in. Our board of directors is working on a template to help more people in more areas duplicate this idea. Having many chapters of Bread & Table would not only continue to expand everyone’s circle with like-minded food and wine lovers, but also continue to feed the many, many, impoverished children in our world!