A Foodies’ Dream: Gourmet food, robust auction bidding highlight annual Front Door agency fundraiser

Telegraph photo by DEAN SHALHOUP Tortilla chips shaped like tiny ice cream cones and filled with salsa and a dab of sour cream were on display at Nashua Country Club's food station at Sunday's event. Cook Michael Touchette, left, and banquet chief Dan Zagarella man the station.

NASHUA – The hundreds of Greater Nashua residents who once again sold out the Front Door agency’s Gourmet Festival and Auction alternated Sunday evening between silent-auction tables and those featuring culinary creations from main courses to desserts and beverages.

Patrons found either food or auction items, sometimes both, in pretty much every space on the main floor at Nashua Country Club, which again hosted Front Door’s signature fundraiser typically held just as spring gets underway.

“The response from the community … it’s just incredible,” Maryse Wirbal, the agency’s chief executive officer, said while in the midst of preparing the country club’s main ballroom for the live auction.

Many patrons, Wirbal noted, return year after year, sometimes inviting along a first-timer who, in turn, often becomes a repeat attendee.

Maria Finnegan, Front Door chief development officer, said the event is a direct reflection of community.

Telegraph photo by DEAN SHALHOUP Auctioneer John Terrio also served as the announcer notifying Gourmet Festival & Auction patrons that it was time for the live auction to begin.

“We have all of our different auction items donated,” she said. “People are giving that way. And then we have the restaurants from all over the area that are coming in and they don’t receive any money for that. They’re giving their time and their food and they’re a part of something. Once a year, everybody comes together for this great cause.”

The vast majority of the auction items, both silent and live, are donated, a key factor that allows more resources to go to the agency.

Among the features that many patrons say keeps them coming back is its “cocktail party” atmosphere, which agency media relations manager Lucie Bryar said allows patrons to “walk around enjoying samplings of different foods.”

“It’s not a sit-down dinner type of fundraiser … it’s more like a cocktail party,” Bryar said.

This year, visitors enjoyed decadent fare, ranging from fresh-rolled sushi to duck and mushroom arancini, Korean pork bowls and ice cream, made right on the spot.

Telegraph photo by DEAN SHALHOUP Hand-painted rocking chairs drew a lot of interest during the silent auction at Sunday's 31st Front Door Agency Gourmet Festival & Auction.

Patrons could try samples from about 20 different food and beverage stations, a dozen of which featured main courses.

New this year to the lineup was Pho Tai Loc, a Vietnamese restaurant that owner Hien Mai opened last year at 28 Railroad Square.

He and his son, Danny, had their hands full for most of the evening, greeting patrons and answering questions about various Vietnamese dishes.

Nick Frasca, who said he’s become a regular customer at Pho Tai Loc, found a couple of items Sunday that he’d yet to try.

“Everything I’ve had is very good,” Frasca said in between bites. “It’s all very fresh.”

Telegraph photo by DEAN SHALHOUP James Banks, from MOAT Mountain Brewing Company in North Conway, chats with a patron sampling beer during Sunday's 31st annual Front Door Agency Gourmet Festival & Auction.

Eventually, the spaces closed down one by one, and when it came time for the live auction, John Terrio, the volunteer auctioneer, herded everyone into the main ballroom.

The Front Door Agency is rooted in a community outreach program founded in 1982 by leaders of the Church of the Good Shepherd. Called “Community Concerns,” it provided an emergency assistance program for local people in need.

In 1987, under the direction of church administrator Carl Swenson and then-Pastor Robert Odierna, the agency was named Nashua Pastoral Care Center, and adopted its current name in 2012.

The agency’s mission is aimed at assisting individuals and families in crisis, including those facing homelessness. Along with transitional housing, the Front Door offers literacy programs, holiday gift programs and others that help clients transition from crisis to self-sufficiency.

“The Front Door Agency is transforming members of our community,” Finnegan said. “Our education component is integral; we’re trying to reverse a problem and stop in its tracks. We offer women a hand-up, not a hand out. That’s very important to us.”

Telegraph photo by DEAN SHALHOUP Danny Mai, right, whose father, Hien Mai, center, owns Pho Tai Loc in Nashua, chats with Nick Frasca during Sunday's Gourmet Festival & Auction at Nashua Country Club

Freelancer George Pelletier contributed to this report.