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What's for dinner? St. Clare's Friday Lenten Fish Fry

Annual fundraiser a community favorite

Posted: February 24, 2009 6:20 p.m.
Updated: March 27, 2009 3:00 p.m.

Volunteers prepare a plateful of heaven for one of the more than 1,000 diners on a Friday night during last year's Lenten Fish Fry at St. Clare's in Canyon Country.

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Hungry people of all faiths, creeds and walks of life line up to feast at the annual fish fry cooking at St. Clare's in Canyon Country Friday nights during Lent, this year from Feb. 27 through April 3.

All you need is a healthy appetite, an appreciation for delicious Alaskan cod and chips, and $7.50 or $8.50 to pay for a complete dinner.

"We went to great lengths so we wouldn't have to raise the price over last year," said Paul Travers, St. Clare's events director and the parish's Lenten fish fry godfather from its immaculate inception in 1978.

This marks the 31st year the St. Clare of Assisi Parish community has served up its annual Lenten fish fry each of the six Friday nights between Ash Wednesday and the week before Good Friday.

After the parish's charity raffle in October, the Lenten Fish Fry is St. Clare's biggest annual fundraiser, with net proceeds going to the St. Francis Counseling Center, the SCV Food Pantry, the SCV Domestic Violence Center, and as direct aid to parish families in need, according to Travers.

"All the charities are hurting this year," Travers said. "Their income is down and the need for services is way up over last year. And the direct aid to families is especially important this year because the need has just gone out of sight because of the economy."

A volunteer crew of about 200 people prepares more than 1,000 dinners each Friday night. 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.

"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 $10 for 12 tickets. Soft drinks and bottled water run a ticket each, while a beer (Miller High Life) or glass of wine (chablis, blush or merlot) goes for four tickets each, up from three tickets last year.

St. Clare's has bought its fish from the same company, Sylmar-based University Foods, for the past 21 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 bought approximately 4,000 pounds of fish in during November. It was quick-frozen at sea, and put it in cold storage in Los Angeles."

The cod arrives from University pre-cut in two-to-three-ounce filets. "The fish was more expensive this year, so our filets are a little smaller -- one way we could keep the price the same," Travers said.

Once the fish is delivered to the St. Clare's kitchen, 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 for charity 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," Travers said. "About 21 years ago I became the parish business administrator for St. Clare's, which I did until four years ago, and over the years we grew the fish fry to the point it is today."

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