Friday fish fries flourish in the Valley
Churches, other groups catch customers with takeout
Many Valley churches and organizations are offering up fish and sides for those giving up meat on Fridays during the Lenten season.
A year ago, these places were at their height for having fish dinner fundraisers — until ordered by state and county health officials to shut down in the COVID-19 pandemic’s early days.
The dinners have started once again this year, but with social distancing guidelines in place — including no inside dining but rather drive-thru, carryout fish dinners.
That’s how operations are set up at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Austintown.
“The support is there for carry-out,” Bobbie Spaulding of Immaculate Heart said. “We don’t have the ambiance, and people don’t have the opportunity to sit down and socialize with their families that they look forward to during Lent. It was a real Friday treat to sit down and have dinner.”
Spaulding also said families and patrons used to look forward to a homemade dessert in addition to the fish.
“Now they only get a piece of candy,” Spaulding said.
For Immaculate Heart, St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Boardman and St. Michael Roman Catholic Parish in Canfield, the move to carry-out has so far been a success. Last week was the first chance to gauge how the community would respond to the changes.
Audrey Geskey, manager of the Family Life Center and organizer of the fish fry at St. Michael, said the church is looking into getting more phone lines because the call-ahead orders were overwhelming. She said a typical night prior to the pandemic would see anywhere from 900 to 1,200 people dine in. Last week, the church was prepared to fulfill more than 600 to-go orders.
A patron of St. Michael church, Bernie Kosar, former mayor of Canfield, said the carry-out option is a smart idea.
“With what’s going on with the pandemic and not needing to get out of the car, it’s well thought out,” Kosar said.
Another St. Michael customer, Canfield resident Helene Mavar, said she’s surprised the event is still happening — but she gives the church credit for the service.
Anthony Orologas, vice president of the parish council at St. John, said the change is something that many churches will need to adapt to and essentially learn as the weeks progress.
“Like all churches in the area, they’re all pretty much dealing with the same consequences,” Orologas said. “We had to come up with a way to simplify things, put things online and make everything accessible online and for drive-up orders as well.”
One of the volunteers at Immaculate Heart, Paul Frabutt, said to-go orders aren’t the only thing different about the 2021 fish fry season.
“The carryout service is a quicker pace without people sitting down. Having to serve everyone outside is much faster,” he said.
St. John styled its to-go method after the popular Chick-fil-A fast food restaurant where there are two lanes, a pre-order and another for people to drive up and order; as well as designated spots for those who drive up to park and wait for their order.
“The pandemic has absolutely put a damper on our original plans. I’m not ready to go in a restaurant,” Youngstown resident Debbie Davner said. “I’ll do carry-out, but I’m older and I’m scared.”
She said she appreciates the new carry-out service.
“It’s 100 percent great. I’m very happy with it,” she said.
Immaculate Heart, St. John and St. Michael, much like other fish fries in the Valley, ask that those wishing to place an order do so in advance. St. John has online ordering available and Immaculate Heart and St. Michael has call-ahead ordering.
“We appreciate the call early in the day, and so far people have accommodated us,” Spaulding said.
Geskey said at St. Michael, people can call ahead on Fridays, place their order and designate what time they want it ready.
To lend a hand during the event, as it has been for years, many of the volunteers at St. Michael are Canfield High School students and members of the National Honor Society. At St. John, most of the volunteers are parishioners who dedicate their time — the same goes for Immaculate Heart.
“Seeing the young kids delivering the food is great to see,” said Bernie’s wife, Geri.
Everyone involved, from those cooking the food to delivering the boxes, wear masks and gloves. Geskey said they even had to modify their menu by cutting many of the homemade sides patrons are used to.
“We realized we couldn’t do our regular menu. There’s too many hands touching some of the sides,” she said. “Still our orders are phenomenal.”