“Who doesn’t like fish?”
The question was rhetorical. After all, Marvin Heaton was frying up a batch of catfish as he spoke, preparing to feed Elks Lodge members, their family and their …
“Who doesn’t like fish?”
The question was rhetorical. After all, Marvin Heaton was frying up a batch of catfish as he spoke, preparing to feed Elks Lodge members, their family and their guests at a recent fish fry.
After a year lost to the pandemic, fish fries are returning — in a big way.
When the Eastern Missouri Family YMCA in Vandalia hosted the first event of their 2021 support campaign, they decided on a fish fry. They planned on serving 200 meals for curbside pickup. Instead, some 270 people came through.
The Mexico Elks Club was forced to cancel their monthly events for much of 2020. When they started cooking again, the takers were limited to members and a few guests. But last at their February fish fry they ran out of the main ingredient.
Elks Club fries are all-you-can-eat affairs. And as Heaton points out, “We’re known for the best fish in town.”
Although some organizations host fish fries throughout the year, the tradition of Lenten events fill the calendar on Fridays in March.
The Moose Lodge held one on March 5. The following week it was the Vandalia YMCA, followed by the Elks.
On April 2 both the Moose and Elks hold special Good Friday events – the Elks for lunch and the Moose in the evening.
“Every town’s got a fish fry, and a lot of churches,” Heaton said.
The association with Lent draws people to fried fish in the spring. Again, however, it’s possible to find organizations serving meals throughout the year. Debbie Hopke, branch director for Eastern Missouri Family YMCA offers another explanation for the popularity.
“I think in general fish is something that people like to eat but not fix for themselves,” she said. “Plus they don't have the clean up involved with frying a batch of fish.
But COVID-19 remains a factor. The Vandalia YMCA partnered with the Vandalia Area Fair Board, using the latter as the location for the drive through.
“We began serving at 4:30 and the line never died down, even when we notified those in line that we were nearly out of food,” observed Hopke. “Overall the event was a huge success.”
As the pandemic’s grip on events eases and diners descend more and more on fish fries, finding people to do the work becomes more difficult.
Organizations rely on volunteers to put meals together. And that means more than just a couple of fryer stations. Ingredients must be lined up, side dishes prepared, salads tossed, iced tea readied to pour.
It’s like a pop-up restaurant.
“It takes all of us to make this come off,” Heaton said.
The Vandalia YMCA fry happened because of a team effort. Fair board members took orders, prepared the plates and worked the fryers. YMCA volunteers, along with students from Van-Far High School, served.
They also stuck around afterwards to help clean up.
“Very likely our 2022 Annual Support Campaign will include a fried fish meal with curbside service,” Hopke said.
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