The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

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March 20, 2014

Everyone can enjoy a fish fry during the season of Lent

The dinners have become pretty much non-denominational

It’s Lent, and Friday fish fry dinners are in full swing at churches and organizations around Ashtabula County.

The season of Lent is a time of penitence and contemplation before Easter lasting 40 days. Although meatless days during Lent are traditionally part of the old Roman Catholic religious calendar, Lenten Friday fish dinners have become pretty much non-denominational. Everyone enjoys them, and all kinds of churches and groups have them.

St. Joseph’s Church of Our Lady of Peace Parish, on Lake Avenue in Ashtabula, is well known for fish dinners during Lent. The church basement dining room seats around 200 people and Lenten Fridays are usually packed. The church has been having fish fries for nearly 30 uninterrupted years. The church has sold more than 500 meals in one evening, but the number is more often closer to 250. All the money earned from the fish dinners goes to the parish.

Every church or organization has its own specialties and each fish fry has a unique character. They all go out of their way to make their Lenten feasts an occasion. At St. Joseph’s, there’s always plenty of fried, baked or breaded baked scrod for dinner. There’s homemade macaroni and cheese, cole slaw, new potatoes, french fries and applesauce for sides, as well as a roll and butter. Dessert is included, also all-you-can-drink coffee or punch. Fried fish is all-you-can-eat. Take out is available.

With so many diners passing through each Friday, often as many as 20 volunteers show up to work an hour or the full evening at St. Joseph's dinners.

Volunteer David Petrocello said he has been volunteering at St. Joseph’s Lenten dinners since 1996.

“Volunteering to help with the dinners is just something I always do for Lent,” he said. “It’s a great group of volunteers. We get people coming in for dinners from all over, so it’s enjoyable.”

Volunteer Pat Blum agreed, saying, “I enjoy serving people during Lent, the whole experience.”

Vernon Kirkingburg is the St. Joseph’s Friday fish fry boss and head chef. He also works for the church. He said he’s up early getting food prepared on Fridays, and even hand makes cole slaw the day before. He’s been doing it for 28 years and still enjoys every minute of it.

“We start fish dinners a month before Lent,” he said. “Five dinners before Lent and five during. It was a little slow at first this year but it’s really picking up now.”

Kirkingburg said he starts his new potatoes as early as 5:30 a.m. before some dinners. He’s there at 1 p.m. on Fridays getting things ready.

“I guess it’s a lot of work, but I certainly enjoy it,” he said. “The most popular dinner is the fried fish because it’s all you cant eat. We fry a lot of fish.”

The St. Joseph’s Friday fish fry lasts from 4 to 7 p.m. on Fridays through April 11.

Other churches and organizations throughout Ashtabula County are cooking great seafood for Lent. Sacred Heart Church on Route 45 in Rock Creek is serving fried or baked fish or shrimp or combo dinners from 4 to 7 p.m. on Fridays this Lent. Carry out is available. There are Lenten fish dinners from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Corpus Christi Parish Center at 731 Mill Street in Conneaut. Carry out is available. The Harpersfield Community Center on Cork Cold Springs Road is hosting a Lenten fish, shrimp or chicken dinner on March 21, April 4 and April 18 from 5 to 7 p.m. Proceeds go the fire department. Carry out is available. There’s an all-you-can-eat fish fry from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Masonic Lodge on Route 7 in Pierpont on March 22 and March 26.

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