Faithful see value in fish frys, albeit modified for pandemic safety

Michael Housepian (right), St. Andrew the Apostle parishioner, delivers a bag filled with a fish dinner to members of the Lollis family, longtime Lenten event visitors, during a fish fry drive-through event at the Merrillville parish on Feb. 19. The fish fry, modified for coronavirus mitigation protocol, continues a decades-long parish tradition of serving up Lenten meals and offering a chance for people to connect. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)

     Last year, as COVID-19 began to spread, organizers of diocesan fish frys were left with little choice but to cancel the events as state mandates limited social gatherings. This year, with the pandemic still ongoing, parish volunteers have found a way to keep the spirit of the fellowship alive by hosting drive-through fish frys.

      St. Andrew the Apostle’s Lenten fish frys have a history that extends perhaps to the 1960s, parishioners said at the church founded in Merrillville in 1965.

      Irene Ozug, who moved into the neighborhood adjacent to the parish as a youth in 1968, said she sought to get involved with many aspects of parish life as she helped care for her ailing mother.

      “I love St. Andrew’s,” Ozug said.

      Fish frys were an activity where she applied her skills in kitchen care.

      “I spoke to (fellow parishioners) and asked if they needed help,” Ozug explained. “Communication is key for any successful doing.”

      While Ozug managed the end-of-the-line kitchen clean-up, some of the St. Andrew’s faithful assisted in front-line duties. Sixteen-year-old Nate Housepian, an Andrean High School sophomore, corralled cars into a queue and took names for pre-ordered meals and accepted cash for new orders.

      At each of six Friday fish frys during Lent, meal-seekers have their choice of fried Alaskan pollock or baked cod. Side selections include baked potatoes or French fries, a roll, coleslaw and a “surprise” pierogi, coordinator Duane Forbes said.

      Forbes has been helping coordinate the Lenten meal event for 15 years. He said the fish frys have been an investment for the parish not only financially, but also in terms of promoting fellowship.

      “Our fish frys are definitely one of our biggest fundraisers of the year,” Forbes said. “But we also use it as a gathering point. Those of us who work the event get together for fellowship and hang out and talk. In normal years, they come to sit and eat – sometimes all night long.”

      Since a large gathering in the parish cafeteria is a no-go during the pandemic, Forbes said he still enjoys seeing the faithful roll down their windows and greet the volunteers as they wait in their cars for their meals to be brought out.

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