Neither a fire nor a pandemic kept St. Vincent de Paul in Dutzow from hosting its Lenten fish fry.

A fire destroyed the Catholic church’s fry shed in December, but St. Vincent de Paul is still holding its annual fish fries this year, all at nearby St. Ignatius of Loyola School. The first dinner of the season was Friday, Feb. 19. Some 390 people went through the drive-thru to purchase the fish dinners made by volunteers.

St. Vincent de Paul is one of a dozen area parishes and organizations continuing the Friday night Lenten tradition amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with most converting to drive-thrus to maintain social distancing protocols.

St. Vincent de Paul made about $2,000 at its first fish fry, all of which was donated to St. Ignatius of Loyola School, said Fred Roesner, financial secretary of the Father Bertens Knights of Columbus Council and chairman of the fish fries. A large portion of that came from extra donations.

“It’s a good community,” he said. “They want to thrive and keep everything going strong.”

The same night, Knights of Columbus in Washington held its fish fry at The KC Hall. About 35 volunteers served more than 1,200 meals through its drive-thru, according to Brent Bargen, general manager of the hall.

The turnout was about 60 percent higher than the 750 customers Bargen had expected. “I think people were just looking for a reason to get out of their house and enjoy a meal cooked just for them,” he said.

To keep up with the unexpectedly high demand, the volunteers moved fast.

“Even in a pandemic, it’s important for us to be able to show the community that we are still able to be there for them to count on us, during especially what has been a difficult year,” Bargen said. 

Men frying catfish shouted over electric mixers, which were whirling industrial-sized portions of mashed potatoes. Women and men scooped green beans into Styrofoam boxes, sharing jokes as they moved rapidly.

Outside, even though there were three stations for drivers to pick up their food, the line of cars at times stretched into Clay Street.

Bargen attributed the high turnout to pent-up demand, as the final fish fries of 2020 had been canceled due to the pandemic, as well as the weather, which was just beginning to warm up after a week of heavy snow.

They made about $5,000 by the end of the night, he said. Proceeds from that event and the upcoming three dinners will be divided among St. Francis Borgia, Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Gertrude and St. Ann’s parishes, and the St. Francis Borgia Music Association.

Dinners like these are important fundraisers as well as community events, said Don Sherman, president and managing officer of the Marthasville Community Club, which hosts monthly dinners the first Friday of every month October through May. 

“Our bills for the phone, internet and trash and water and air, they run $700, $800 a month for just a building sitting there, so we had to do something to keep going,” Sherman said.

About 30 percent of the Marthasville Community Club’s budget comes from chicken and fish dinners, he said. 

At the Feb. 5 dinner, more than double the typical number of customers showed up to the drive-thru dinner. Attendance totaled 370 guests instead of the usual 150.

No matter the barricade, he said, these events will occur, and the community will find a way to share a meal.

“It’s all hot and fresh,” Sherman said. “Come on out.”