With the passing of Ash Wednesday, the Lenten season has officially begun. Besides special church services and possibly giving something up, the time also brings another seasonal staple: fish fry dinners.
Area churches and organizations are finding ways to keep up these popular dinners despite the lingering presence of the COVID-19 pandemic. While a far cry from the usual way such events are held, these methods allow a major happening for many Christians to still take place.
For the Catholic Community of Meadville, Lenten fish dinners will be served as takeout only at St. Brigid Church's social hall starting Feb. 26 and continuing every Friday until Easter. From 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., haddock and scalloped potatoes will be offered for $10 each per adult and $4.50 for kids.
Father Jeffrey Lucas, pastor of three Catholic churches in Meadville, said they settled on the takeout option to avoid gathering limits put in place by the state. Lucas expressed some disappointment with not being able to interact with people at the dinners face-to-face, but said they were at least somewhat of a return to normality.
"It definitely casts a bit of a pall over it," he said. "It's not quite the event you would like it to be."
Nevertheless, Lucas said the dinners are quite popular with the congregation, with even people from other churches coming to attend.
The community is taking sign-ups for people to work the fish fry dinners. Kathleen Wheelock, who coordinates the dinners, said between 15 to 20 volunteers are needed, a number she feels sure they'll reach.
"I am feeling confident because a lot of people were asking if we were going to be having it this year, so people are looking forward to keeping with tradition and getting their fish," she said.
A sign-up sheet is available at St. Brigid Church for those who want to help, and the church office can be contacted to sign up.
St. Philip Church in Linesville is also making the switch to takeout for the year, running every Friday until March 26.
The coordinator for that church, Rosie Rose, said those picking up food will be able to wait socially distanced in the church's gym or, if they do not feel comfortable going into the building, they can have their meals taken to their car.
Similar to Lucas, Rose was a little uneasy over not being able to have the dinners together as a congregation.
"I guess I kind of have mixed feelings about it, but I guess we have to do what we have to do so everybody stays safe," she said.
Rose estimated St. Philip's fish fry dinners normally attracted between 150 to 200 people.
The church is taking added safety precautions. Masks will be required of volunteers and visitors, and chairs inside the church will be wiped down between patrons.
While the service method may be different, the food is much the same. St. Philip will serve cod with french fries, baked potatoes, mac and cheese, coleslaw and applesauce. Rose said the church did have to cut its usual dessert and beverage offerings, but that's the only major change.
Price for dinners at St. Philip are $10 per person. Diners can call (814) 683-4275 starting at 3 p.m. on Fridays to order a meal, but pickup won't begin until 4. Dinners will run until 7 at the latest, Rose said, but don't count on that.
"Unless we sell out," she said. "Because we did sell out quite a bit last year."
Churches aren't the only organization holding fish fry dinners. Spartansburg Volunteer Fire Department, for example, will hold one every Friday during Lent from 4 to 7 p.m. each day. Meals will be served to go, with orders accepted from 2 to 5 by calling (814) 654-7222. Fish meals are $11 while chicken meals are $9.
Lindsey Smith, president of the Spartansburg Auxiliary, said the group wanted to find a way to keep the community safe while also providing a highly anticipated meal.
"I do think we'l miss out some, but I still believe our community will pull through and support us," she said.
The fish fry supports the fire department, and Smith estimated the dinners sell on average 500 meals during a typical year. The group will be serving haddock for their choice of fish, and the sides with the meals include coleslaw, applesauce, rolls and a strawberry shortcake dessert.
Sean P. Ray can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.
Editor's note:This story was updated on Feb. 18 to state that the Spartansburg Volunteer Fire Department is having a fish fry every Friday during Lent. Previously only Friday date was given.