For a cause

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

Rachel Rossi, 16, left, volunteered to serve dinner at the USA Pro Challenge gala Saturday to raise money for Durango High School’s cross-country team. She is the daughter of Karin and Steve Rossi. Cissy Anderson, center, Donald Laury, right, and Dave Collis were among the 650 guests who attended the dinner at Fort Lewis College.

By Pamela Hasterok
Special to the Herald

Eight by eight they came, clad inform-fitting spandex shorts and chest-clinging jerseys, some of the skinniest, most muscular men ever to grace a Fort Lewis College stage.

Believe me, they weren’t there to partake of the meal for the USA Pro Cycling Challenge gala dinner Saturday. Managers, trainers and nutritionists monitor every calorie that goes into an elite professional cyclist, and cantaloupe-hued cheddar mashed potatoes, burnished beef short ribs and golf-ball sized chocolate truffles aren’t on their menu, as they were for the 650 guests.

But Tom Danielson, a top-ranking cyclist and Fort Lewis alumnus, held out hope for a well loved, off-the-diet Durango treat.

“We were going to go to the Palace to get some burgers, but it didn’t happen. Maybe tomorrow,” he said wistfully.

Standing on the semi-soggy lawn before being called in to dinner, former Durango mayor Joe Colgan held a plate of hors d’oeuvres in one hand and his wine glass in the other.

“It’s good,” he mumbled as he finished a bite of James Ranch cheese and a cracker. Nodding toward his glass of malbec, he added, “Wine is always good.”

It’s that time of year.

Or maybe in Durango, it’s always that time of year. In a town with more than 200 nonprofit organizations, charity fundraisers are as much a part of the landscape as the La Plata Mountains.

Get ready. The USA Pro Cycling Challenge gala (which wasn’t a charity event – the money went to offset the cost of bringing in the race) is over, but a string of dress-up dinners and lunches benefitting your favorite local causes is coming your way.

Herewith, a few: the Women’s Resource Center’s Girls Night Out is Friday at Blue Lake Ranch. The TOP fashion show benefitting the Durango Art Center will be Sept. 21; the Durango Friends of the Arts fashion show and lunch will be Sept. 28 at the DoubleTree Hotel and the Adaptive Sports Association, a sports program serving people with disabilities, will hold its annual fall gala Oct. 18 at the Mahogany Grille. (If I’ve missed you, please don’t bomb my house. Just email me with the details of your event and I’ll get it in soon.)

If you’ve never been to one of these soirees, here’s the rundown. Most of the time, the evening starts with a happy hour where folks get drinks, meet their friends and eye the goods at the silent auction. (Nonprofit groups ask friends and supporters to donate something of value and then attendees bid on the items they like. I’m still bemoaning missing out on a vivid blue painting of a Venetian seascape at Music in the Mountains’ Pops Night last month.)

Hand-crafted jewelry, good wine, paintings, photographs and certificates for massages or home consultations fill the tables. Most organizations save their best offerings for the live auction, where Hawaiian vacations, winter ski trips and celebrity dinners bring in the big bucks. All this moolah goes to keeping the doors open and the lights on at your favorite good cause.

Food-based fundraisers can account for a quarter of a nonprofit company’s budget. Unlike grants and donations, which are often targeted to a specific program, fundraising dollars finance everyday expenses such as buying insurance and replacing office equipment.

“There’s nobody living the high life here,” said Tim Kroes, executive director of Adaptive Sports Association. “The small, grass-rootsy nonprofits – we stretch those dollars as far as they can go.”

The events also serve to renew interest in a particular cause and provide a once-or-twice a year burst of publicity for an organization. And of course, they’re intended to bring friends and supporters together for a good time.

I can tell you that Girls Night Out at Blue Lake Ranch is a blast. (Total disclosure: I volunteer for WRC.) When you get 400 women huddling under tents while it pours rain, drinking wine and deciding what outrageous hue to color their toenails – this is to say nothing of grazing on homemade potato chips, fresh sushi and lamb-chop lollipops – you have a memorable evening.

This year the sushi will be back, joined by an Asian and Mediterranean nosh bar featuring Japanese pot stickers, chicken tatsuta, Yemeni doughnuts and red pepper tahini dip. But never mind that. I’m heading straight for the s’mores bar to fill my plate with homemade chocolate, strawberry and vanilla marshmallows and butterscotch caramel, hazelnut chocolate sauce and Kit Kat salsa, none of which you can expect me to resist. That’s the payoff for doing good for a good cause.

Weather – as in late snows, high winds or downpours – is a caterer’s plague. It’s nothing short of amazing that so many events are held outside in Durango’s fickle climate without disastrous results. It rained buckets just an hour before the Pro Challenge gala, held in – what else? – a tent, without creating any noticeable difficulty.

Being prepared for the worst is just part of the job, caterers say, but every once in a while, even the most unflappable can be caught in a jam.

Jimmy Nicholson, owner of DuranGourmet, was helping out at a Texas event when a hurricane swept through, flooding the kitchen and killing the power. A basketful of towels procured from nearby residences and an emergency generator later, the affair went on.

Sari Brown, owner of The Yellow Carrot, found herself in the middle of a windstorm this summer while she catered an outdoor rehearsal dinner for 150. There was dirt everywhere – on her, her staff and their equipment. Two hours later, dinner was served.

“Problems pop up and you just kind of fix them,” Nicholson said.

Fortunately, Nicholson will be working inside when he caters the reception for the TOP fashion show for the Durango Arts Center, held in its Barbara Conrad gallery. Last year, he made the most delicious appetizer I’ve ever tasted, a toasted Parmesan artichoke, infused with lemon and topped with truffle oil. (Total disclosure: I volunteer for DAC.)

This year, he’ll tempt us with five-spice duck breast, tandoori chicken and raita, smoked tenderloin and Romesco sauce and a goat cheese, mushroom and arugula empanada. I didn’t see dessert on the menu, but if it is, you can count on me to taste it for you and report back.

Planning is under way for Adaptive Sports’ Harvest Gala, done this year and last by Mahogany Grille in the Strater Hotel. (Total disclosure: I have no association whatsoever with Adaptive Sports. I wouldn’t know Kroes if he hit me.) They’ll offer a fish and a beef dish – last year it was salmon pinwheels and strip steak – and the de rigueur salad course. And I know they’ll have dessert. Mahogany Grille does a great dessert.

But you don’t really go to a benefit dinner for the food, although it’s a boon if it’s tasty. You go for something else.

“You come to these events for the community,” said John Anderson, a business and education consultant and the incoming president of Music in the Mountains. “It’s a way to give back to the community.”

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