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UPDATED: Final Lenten Fish Fry Tonight

Annual St. Clare's fundraiser celebrates 30th anniversary.

Posted: February 21, 2008 3:40 p.m.
Updated: May 15, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Paul Travers, right, and his son Pat, center, oversee the preparation of more than 1,000 fish dinners at St. Clare's in Canyon Country each Friday night during Lent. They are helped by volunteers (from left) Gina Schlehner, Patty DeAnda and Paulette Ballock.

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You don't have to be Catholic to enjoy the fish fry cooking at St. Clare's in Canyon Country Friday nights through March 14. You just need a healthy appetite, an appreciation for excellent fish and chips, and $7.50 or $8.50 to pay for dinner.

This is the 30th year the St. Clare of Assisi Parish community has served up its annual Lenten fish fry each Friday night between Ash Wednesday and March 14, so tonight's the final night.

A volunteer crew of about 200 people prepares more than 1,000 dinners those nights. About 700 diners pack St. Clare's huge cafeteria between 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., and another 300 pick up their mess o' fish to go and take it home to feast.

It's the parish's biggest annual fundraiser, with net proceeds going to the St. Francis Counseling Center, the SCV Food Pantry and the SCV Domestic Violence Center, and as direct aid to parish families in need, according to Paul Travers, St. Clare's events director and Lenten fish fry godfather from Year One in 1978.

"We have two prices - $7.50 for two pieces of fish or $8.50 for three pieces of fish, plus French fries or rice pilaf and cole slaw, and water, coffee or tea," Travers said. "On the tables are rolls and butter; pretzels. Then we have a separate dessert table. A different parish group does dessert as a fundraiser each Friday night. It's a pretty good-sized bake sale. Very few people go home without dessert, and when you consider that many pieces of something, that's a lot."

Travers said beverage tickets cost $1 each or $12 for 10. Soft drinks and bottled water run a ticket each, while a beer (Miller High Life) or glass of wine (white or red) go for three tickets each.

St. Clare's has bought its fish from the same company, Sylmar-based University Foods, for the past 20 years. "Our buyer starts pricing Alaskan cod in September and October, and freezes the price when he finds the lowest," Travers said. "Come Lenten time, the pricing will increase 10-15 percent, but we buy it earlier. This year, we brought approximately 4,000 pounds of fish in during December, quick frozen, and put it in cold storage in Los Angeles."

The cod arrives from University pre-cut in three-to-four-ounce filets. In the St. Clare's kitchen, the volunteer cooks dip the filets in flour, then authentic Wisconsin beer batter, then deep-fry the filets. Other volunteers prepare the French fries, rice and cole slaw.

Travers has actually been frying fish since the early 1970s. "The fish fry began about 35 years ago, at Our Lady of Perpetual Help," he said. "The parents' association there started it. We served 75-100 dinners each Friday night during Lent back then."

After about five years, the Newhall church switched to bingo for its fundraising efforts. "Around that time, St. Clare's was becoming a parish here in Canyon Country," Travers said. "Three of the couples who'd started the fish fry at Our Lady lived in the new parish of St. Clare's, and we went to Ed Renehan, the new pastor, and said we'd like to have a fish fry. He said, 'Fine!' At that point I was just a volunteer, just as everyone else was. About 20 years ago I became the parish business administrator for St. Clare's, and we grew the fish fry to the point it is today."

Find St. Clare's at 19606 Calla Way in Canyon Country. Turn north off Soledad Canyon Road onto Camp Plenty, and take the first left turn onto Calla Way. The church is about a block up the street on the left. Free parking is available in the parish lot and on the street. For more information, contact Travers at (661) 645-0381.

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