Fish dinners return after COVID-19 haitus

Longtime volunteer Edward Burke talks about how the Lent tradition builds community


The fish dinners at Church of St. Albert the Great returned in 2023.
The last dinner had been held on March 13, 2020 before the state was shut down due to COVID-19, and attendance had been low.
“Because we’d ordered our food ahead of time, we had a substantial amount left over. We saved what we could, thinking that we might have a special bonus fish fry in the summer. When it became clear that wouldn’t be possible, we sold boxes of fish with seasoning packets so that people could fry up fish at home,” recalled Edward Burke, who serves on the fish dinner leadership team. “I bought a box myself, and it was good, but not as good as what our cooks make at St. Albert.”
Like others, St. Albert's did not hold any big events in 2021. They had hoped to hold the dinners in 2022, but then the Omnicron variant hit and they postponed things again.
In 2023, they returned for all six weeks of Lent with the same menu as before: baked and fried fish, potatoes, coleslaw, spaghetti, bread, and desserts. The games were back (Bingo, 50/50, a cash raffle, and mini raffles), and so were the musicians.
“It’s basically the same fish dinner that people are used to except that they can be eating their food within five minutes of walking in the door,” said Burke. “Our primary adjustment for the pandemic is that we now have air purifiers positioned throughout the social hall.”
Prior the pandemic, the fish dinners averaged about 1,200 people per week.
Burke attended his first fish fry there about 20 years ago, and by 2010 was working all the dinners. In all, 98 percent of the work of putting on the events is done by volunteers, which includes two volunteer co-leaders, two dozen section leads, and others who work in a variety of roles whether one night or six.
“These events started as fundraisers, and they still serve an important role providing a portion of our church’s budget,” observed Burke. “But more than that, they build community, both within our parish and between the parish and the wider neighborhood. Fish dinners are often the first volunteer role that parishioners will take on at the parish. They can help people to understand that they are part of a community of people who depend on each other. Fish dinner volunteers often build friendships that they might not have developed otherwise. And as the sense of community grows, people take on other ministries to support the church. And we also get many volunteers from outside the church who simply love the dinners and want to share them with the community. Each week we recruit about 120 volunteers to set up, cook, serve, clean up, and host bingo and other games.
“People come to the dinners for a host of different reasons. Of course, many people love the fish. Personally my favorite is the coleslaw. And we have a huge dessert selection, many of them homemade. We also have many serious bingo players who eat their dinner early and then head up to the gym as soon as the 5:30 p.m. bingo start arrives. We also try to keep things lively with raffles running all night long. We give away $25 several dozen times most evenings. And we have a wide variety of baskets that people can take a chance on in the mini raffle. (The mini raffle winners are chosen after the fifth dinner, and the major cash raffle winners are chosen after the sixth and final dinner).
“There’s something for everyone.”


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