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by Catherine Bigelow | Photography by Nano

The sold-out Benefit Luncheon for Mission Dolores Academy, held on April 29 in the Julia Morgan Ballroom, needs a rebrand. Something like: The Gagan Gourmet GoFundUs. The biggest bids amid a lively auction were epicurean-themed: a 52-bottle wine collection from MDA board members; a home-cooked feast for 20 by chef Charles Phan ($21K); two Villa Taverna dinners with rare French wines, courtesy of Lisa and Todd Zabelle ($9K each); and a “heavenly” dinner with MDA cofounder Fr. Charles Gagan, S.J., which sold twice ($8K each).

While Gagan, an EssEff native and former pastor of St. Ignatius Church, is a noted connoisseur of fine dining and primo vino, he is even more devoted to the student body of this K–8 faith-based, academically excellent school that provides full scholarships to a majority of its underserved students. Often the first in their families to attend high school, almost 100 percent of MDA students matriculate into top San Francisco high schools.

The afternoon also honored supersupporter Paula Williams, who previously gave a generous donation to enhance the school’s Wellness Program, led by Karla Iniguez-Zarate. Williams was an active bidder at the luncheon, pledging $10K with a shout-out, “That’s for Karla,” to bolster the understaffed program that provides students with mental health support, speech-language therapy, socialemotional learning and nutrition.

Led by event chairs Kendel Qvale Duford and Michelle Curtis Harris, with MDA trustee Bob Lalanne, the afternoon included a surprise video tribute to Gagan. “He is an amazing educator,” enthused Jerome Williams. “I’ve watched Charlie fight for kids to get in the school and challenge them to do better. He’s also so much fun, sometimes you forget he’s a priest.”

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