Like virtually every aspect of American life, fish fries hosted by service organizations, veterans groups and local churches across the region, including Our Lady Star of the Sea in Grosse Pointe Woods, have been affected by growing concerns and precautionary measures over the coronavirus.

Like virtually every aspect of American life, fish fries hosted by service organizations, veterans groups and local churches across the region, including Our Lady Star of the Sea in Grosse Pointe Woods, have been affected by growing concerns and precautionary measures over the coronavirus.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

Lenten fish fries changed, canceled over coronavirus concerns

By: Brian Louwers, Terry Oparka | C&G Newspapers | Published March 19, 2020

METRO DETROIT — On any given Friday during Lent, St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Church hosts between 700 and 800 people for dinner in its banquet center on Ryan Road in Warren.

The guests have many great choices: shrimp, perch, smelt and cod that’s fried or baked, pyrohy (pierogi), potato pancakes and all the sides, in portions for kids and adults.

But hard choices are now being made by fish fry organizers, who are charged with protecting the health of their congregations and the community as the world’s coronavirus crisis continues to unfold.

“Can you imagine, one thing, we have already fish for two weeks. We bought the fish before,” said the Rev. Mario Dacechen, St. Josaphat’s pastor. “We already spent more than $4,000, what we have in the freezer. It’s a very delicate situation.”

Church financial stewards in general are famously frugal, thrifty and prudent. They know how to get the most out of increasingly limited resources. Dacechen said his church bought fish a little in advance this year to avoid paying higher prices for the products their Lenten patrons enjoy. No one could have imagined what would happen.

St. Josaphat offered carryout service on March 13, announced a suspension of its fish fry for March 20, after press time, and advised patrons to check back about fish fries after that.

Eating and preparing the meals offers an opportunity for fellowship. St. Josaphat has 100 volunteers working together weekly, and 50 people who work over two days to turn 250 pounds of potatoes into Ukrainian comfort food.

Traditionally, fish fries are a more than delicious option for those looking to abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent.

“This is a good fundraiser for the church,” Dacechen added. He said the money generally helps the church pay the bills for two months out of the year.

“We tried to be open, but we have to follow the rules. We prefer to follow the best way,” Dacechen said. “It’s a difficult time.”

Micki McFarlane, co-chair of the fish fries hosted by the St. Andrew’s Society of Detroit, which she said has been active in the Detroit area since 1849, said she has her fingers crossed that the society’s major fundraiser, the Highland Games held in Livonia during the summer, will still take place.

She said the fish fries held at the Kilgour Irish Centre in Troy are popular and net the society $6,000-$8,000 in profit each year, which it donates to 30-35 charities in Scotland, Canada and the U.S.

“We won’t have that money,” McFarlane said. She noted that the society had not yet met by press time to discuss how to go forward because of concerns about the coronavirus.

“It was a great gathering for people,” she said of the fish fries. “A lot of people have called to say they miss it.” She added that the only food left were some french fries in the freezer.

Tom Gray, the grand knight of the Knights of Columbus Council 5452 in Rochester, said the group was able to host three of the seven fish fries it had planned at the Rochester Community House for this year.

“The last week (March 13), our attendance was down about 30%, so we had a lot of food left over,” he said via email. “The cooked food was donated that night, and what was still frozen was donated to the Rochester Pantry. Our profits from the Lenten fish fries go into our fund for charities each year. Most years we donate to 25-30 local charities, as well as being available to help charities with manpower.

“This will be a challenging year because of the loss of revenue from the canceled fish fries, but also the loss of our second big fundraiser, Texas Hold ’em. We plan to stick to our normal amounts of donations in the next fiscal year, but we do have a chart prioritizing our donations in case we have to cut back for one year,” Gray said.

He added, “These are challenging times, and our knights recognize that many in our local community will be hit hard financially and emotionally from the disruption of life by the coronavirus. We pledge to help our community recover from this unprecedented event in any way we can.”

The Rev. Jeff Scheeler, pastor of the Church of the Transfiguration in Southfield, said that canceling the fish fries was in keeping with the Archdiocese of Detroit order that canceled everything. He said the modest profit from the sale, which the church’s men’s club organized and staffed, was used for charitable groups and to help with religious education.

Not much food went to waste, he said, because they buy the food on a weekly basis.

While public Masses have been canceled, the church remains open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. so people can stop in and pray, he said.

“It surprises me how many are stopping in,” Scheeler said.

He explained that the church also works with Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan to run a food pantry at the church, and that it employs social distancing measures, excusing any volunteer who wishes to be.

“That need is even greater now,” he said. “We are trying to provide for that, too.”

Jennifer Tripoli, who works in the office at Royal Oak First United Methodist Church, said that the church’s fish fries were not a big fundraiser.

“We used the proceeds to send the choir to camp,” Tripoli said.

She said the biggest impact the coronavirus has had on their activities is to the meals they offer to the homeless.

“We feed the homeless five days a week,” she said, noting that they can no longer offer them hot lunches, only boxed lunches, because they are unable to enter the church. “That’s our biggest impact,” she said.

John Robinson, president of the men’s club at St. Malachy Catholic Church on 14 Mile Road in Sterling Heights, said carryout fish fry service was offered on March 13, but that all service has now been suspended indefinitely.

He said the church serves 475 fish fry dinners in a typical week during Lent.

“It’s a fundraiser for the church. We have some projects that we wanted to do this year, but there are no fish fries now and everything’s on hold,” Robinson said. “Right now, I think it’s time for all of us to heed the warnings and cooperate, so we can get through this.”

Asked about advice for those in the congregation looking for a replacement for the weekly fish fries, like so many other disruptions in daily life, Robinson said, “One word over this whole pandemic: faith.”