Some fish fries succumb to Covid-19

Port Washington, Grafton parish groups decide not to host traditional Lenten meals that serve as important fundraisers

FRIDAY FISH FRIES at area parishes have been a long-standing Lenten tradition that promotes fellowship among members of the church and the community while raising funds for parish causes, but it’s one that’s falling to the wayside this year due to the pandemic. Preparing food for a fish fry at St. John XXIII Parish’s fish fry in 2019 were Bev Bolz, who added French fries to a tray of food held by Adam Lanser. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

At Catholic schools and churches during Lent — a tradition that has packed families and singles of all ages into cafeterias for an evening of fellowship and food — is falling by the wayside this year as the coronavirus continues to disrupt life.

The fish fries at St. John XXIII Parish in Port Washington and St. Joseph Catholic Church in Grafton have been canceled, while Divine Savior Catholic School in Fredonia is continuing to hold its fish fries but only as drive-through events.

“As much as we’d like to hold our fish fries, we just can’t,” Mike Keller of the St. John XXIII Men’s Club, which sponsors the parish’s fish fries, said. “If it weren’t for the pandemic, we’d certainly be hosting fish fries this year.”

Will Hollrith, a member of the St. Joseph fish fry committee, concurred.

“It’s pretty hard to do right now,” Hollrith said. “With Covid, why would you want to do it? Until Covid’s done, everything’s going catawampus.”

There are two main reasons for the club’s decision, Keller said — the Catholic Comeback rules set forth by the Milwaukee Archdiocese allows only drive-through or drive-up fish fries, which St. John’s isn’t set up for, and the limited availability of the school kitchen.

The adjoining cafeteria is being used for classroom space so students can be socially distanced, so the club can’t get in to do prep work until after the school day on Thursdays and Fridays, which makes it virtually impossible to hold the fish fries,  Keller said.

“It’s a three-day operation for each fish fry,” he said.

The loss of the fish fries is a blow not only to parish social life but to the organizations that sponsor these dinners and depend on them for much of their funding for the year.

Keller said the Men’s Club averages a profit of $2,000 for each of its three fish fries — a significant part of its funding.

“It’s one of our two major fundraisers,” he said. “And just like everyone else right now, our funds are tight.

“Hopefully Fish Day (the other major fundraiser) will be a go and we’ll do all right there,” he said, referring to the fish and chips stand the club operates at the annual festival. 

St. Joseph Parish traditionally hosts five fish fries annually, and in its 23 years has brought in more than $500,000, Hollrith said.

“It’s a tough deal” not to host the events, he said.

The one parish fish fry remaining in the area is at Divine Savior in Fredonia, which will host its first event of the year will run from 4:30 to 8 p.m. Friday, with addition events set for March 5 and 19. Funds from the first fish fry are matched by the Catholic Order of Foresters.

Funds raised from the fish fries are a “nice source of income” for the school, parish secretary Jenny Stemwell said.

“We’re doing the drive-through only,” she said. “You can’t do the big gatherings any more because of Covid, but we are able to do it as a drive-through.”

St. John XXIII and St. Joseph both hope to host fish fries again next year, organizers said. 

“This was a very difficult decision ultimately made for the safety of our volunteers and patrons,” St. John’s Men’s Club said in announcing its decision. “We anxiously look forward to once again offering our traditional Lenten fish fries in 2022.”



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