Have you heard the buzz about indulging in great food at The Ritz-Carlton, completely guilt-free? It’s not a food fantasy, but it is a fantastic evening! Sample the best recipes from some of St. Louis’ best chefs—and feel good knowing you’re helping to save babies—when the St. Louis Signature Chefs auction returns for the 19th year on Oct. 20. The evening begins with cocktails and a silent auction, followed by a tasting and live auction.

“This is always a fun, popular event,” says Bob O’Loughlin, chairman of the Missouri March of Dimes board. “People look forward to it, because it’s for a great cause and it’s not often you have all of these amazing chefs together.” The casual atmosphere enhances the evening, he adds. “The thing I like about it? It’s not a formal sit-down dinner where you get ‘the chicken or the beef.’ You can get up and roam around, find your favorite restaurant and sample what the chef has cooked up. And it’s fun to visit with everyone!” Restaurant owner Kim Tucci will be the auctioneer, and Y98 radio personality Guy Phillips is master of ceremonies, he adds.

Last year’s event raised more than $265,000 for the organization, supporting community service, advocacy and education, as well as research into the causes and prevention of premature births.

Helping babies is what drew O’Loughlin to the cause. “I’ve been on the board for about six years, and I have to say, it’s very fulfilling. This organization has effected so much positive change and good news. For example, the preterm birth rate dropped from 13.3 percent in 2005 to 12.1 percent in 2009, and all babies born in Missouri are screened for 29 serious but treatable conditions, as a result of a March of Dimes campaign.” Significant corporate and community support for Signature Chefs is crucial to the mission, he adds. “It’s incredible! Not just for this event, but every fundraiser held throughout the year. In April, more than 10,000 people turned out for the March for Babies in Forest Park. It’s amazing how generous the people of St. Louis are!” Advocacy efforts also have been successful with the legislature, he adds. “In 2010, March of Dimes received legislative approval of $3 million to fund smoking cessation for Missourians on Medicaid, with a priority given to pregnant women. And in July, Gov. Jay Nixon signed legislation creating a state task force on prematurity and infant mortality.”

The October evening will honor individuals for their contribution to the March of Dimes, including O’Laughlin and his son Steve. Event co-chairs are Ellen Appleby and Karen Raskas and longtime honorary chairs are Vince Bommarito Jr. of Tony’s restaurant and Thom Sehnert from Annie Gunn’s.

Guests at the Signature Chefs event have an opportunity to hear from people who have been helped by the March of Dimes, O’Laughlin says. “We often hear personal stories about babies and families who have benefitted from our services, like the NICU Family Support program, which partners with St. Louis Children’s Hospital. It was designed by families, for families, to help them during hospitalization and transition home.”