Shiny cars, crowded lanes and auctioneers chanting, “Sold!” bring energy to the KCI Auto Auction’s 12,000-square-foot facility near the airport in Kansas City, North.
But among the hustle and bustle of the facility’s six auction lanes, visitors might miss the group that really brings strength to the organization: the altruistic employees who are quietly working behind the scenes to help their community.
Since 2012, the business, now 100-employee strong, has been something of a broker house for used cars. New and used car dealers in KC, as well as national factory accounts like Toyota and Kia, sell cars. Local banks also sell repossessed vehicles at KCI Auto Auction.
The same energy and enthusiasm the employees have for the business is also poured into their charitable acts.
Its KCI Cares program, created in 2012 and run solely by employee volunteers, has donated around $850,000 to three main local charities, and several other charitable groups, over the past five years.
The group has raised thousands of dollars for abused and neglected women and children in Kansas City.
The decision as to which group to help was simple, said KCI Auto Auction owner and general manager Doug Doll.
“I feel like that is who needs help the most,” Doll said of area children raised in abusive environments.
“A child has no chance if they’re stuck in a cycle like that. So we want to break the cycle of poverty, break the cycle of abuse, break the cycle of drug abuse.”
KCI Auto Auction, founded in 1978, features around 1,400 vehicles each week for up to 1,000 Midwest dealers. KCI remarkets vehicles for wholesale consignors including dealers, manufacturers, rental car companies, banks, finance and leasing institutions.
The KCI Carees program took shape in 2011 when a handful of staff members proposed a company initiative that would benefit the community. Doll was on board from the start, said KCI Auto Auction marketing manager Melissa Miller. From there, the group researched local charities.
“We knew we wanted to keep the money in the Kansas City area and we wanted to be involved with kids,” Miller said. “Once we narrowed down the places, we took the idea and ran with it.”
The staff agreed on three organizations: Camp Quality Greater Kansas City, a one-week camp for children with cancer; Jackson County CASA, a nonprofit organization that represents abused and neglected children in school, foster care and court systems; and Sheffield Place, a homeless shelter for women and children.
In 2016, the company raised $265,000 from employee and customer donations, fundraiser events and silent auctions.
Auto Auction customer and auto shop manager Sarah Talbot, whose fiance owns First Class Auto Shop in the Northeast area of Kansas City, said the organization donates a portion of each car they sell to the KCI Cares Program.
“It comes directly out of our seller’s check, so we hardly know it’s gone,” Talbot said.
“It’s hard to believe there are so many families who struggle among us. Who better to help than a neighbor?”
At an auction last month, more than 500 customers wiggled and weaved their way through lanes filled with more than 1,000 cars to catch a glimpse of the annual check presentation, where each charity received more than $64,000. The remaining funds were used for local schools and KCI Auto Auction employees who needed some financial support, Doll said.
“It’s usually always a big surprise and it usually always makes us cry,” Crystal Davison, executive director at Camp Quality, said of the annual check presentation. “Because (it) means that that amount of money can essentially fund a week of camp for us.”
It costs about $1,000 for each child to attend a week of camp every summer at Lake Maurer Camp in Excelsior Springs, Davison said. All costs are covered by Camp Quality. And while KCI Cares donations help sustain the organization’s operations, the funds also give Camp Quality the financial stability to add new programs like a teen weekend and an upcoming sibling retreat to allow older children and family members to participate.
Around 125 volunteers — including KCI Auto Auction employees — participate in activities like crafts and fishing during camp week, Davison said.
In August, KCI Auto Auction gained national attention from the National Auto Auction Association for its good works. The organization was awarded the Western Region Auto Auction of the Year Award for Excellence in Community Service. The award was given to four auto auctions across the U.S.
Camp Quality, Jackson County CASA and Sheffield Place nominated the Auto Auction for the inaugural award.
“KCI goes above and beyond and puts this together themselves,” Kelly Welch, executive director at Sheffield Place, said of the KCI Cares program. For critical needs like diapers and paper towels, KCI Auto Auction is there as well, she said. “They provide financial support but they also supply volunteer support… That’s what made them really exceptional.”
Welch said Sheffield Place has gone from serving 20 families in 2010 to almost 120 families in 2016 with the help of the KCI Cares program.
“What’s most amazing about this is that this medium-sized, privately owned company has chosen to make philanthropy and volunteering central to their business mission,” said Martha Gershun, executive director at Jackson County CASA.
Gershun said CASA raises about $1.5 million each year to sustain operations. KCI Auto Auction has been its largest business supporter since 2012, she said.
With funds from the KCI Cares program, CASA can serve an extra 100 to 200 children per year. This year, CASA plans to serve 1,250 children in Jackson County.
KCI Cares volunteers meet at least once a month to plan fundraising events, said Miller; those events include an annual golf tournament in May. Fundraisers also include a chance for customers to throw pies in the faces and shave the heads of KCIAA management.
Al Coleman, a 33-year Auto Auction employee, said he feels “humbled” to work at a place where community service is built into its mission.
“There is such a need in Kansas City,” he said, adding, “This is just the start.”
Coleman said he hopes the organization can expand its fundraising efforts in coming years to serve more people.
But employees offer more than just financial support to community members, Miller said.
“We then realized that some of these people can’t afford to give back financially, but they can afford to give up two hours of their time.”
Four times a year, around 50 employees pick up trash along area interstates, Miller said. Others teach car care classes at Sheffield Place on how to change oil and check tire pressure.
“Not to sound overly dramatic, but they are like our angels,” Welch said of KCI Cares volunteers. “They are really true partners.”
“It seemed like one of those things where it was like, ‘Man, this seems too good to be true,’ ” Davison said. “Then for it to continue and to foster into all these awesome relationships and to experience this for our kids is really huge.”
More information on KCI Auto Auction
Where: 11101 N. Congress Ave., Kansas City
Charitable arm of the organization: KCI Cares
Upcoming event: KCI Charity Golf Tournament, May 7, Tiffany Greens Golf Course
For more information on KCI Cares: Melissa Miller, marketing manager, 816-841-0458 or firstname.lastname@example.org