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During 2021 Lenten fast, some fish fries carry on with carry-out

DOGTOWN – The women in charge of the annual Lenten fish fries at St. James the Greater Catholic Church said it couldn’t be done.

A carryout fish fry in the pandemic? Better to cancel.

But then the Rev. Richard Quirk, the church’s pastor, gave his blessing. And that was that.

“He wanted us to do the fish fry. We finally relented,” said Terry Daugherty, one of the leaders of the annual event at the church at 1360 Tamm Avenue. 

With that, St. James became one of a small number of churches in the area that are allowing the tradition to continue, as long as people eat the sacred fried or baked cod somewhere they can stay six feet away from everyone else.

“So much of the fish fry is about community,” said Daugherty, who works with Terri Garneau and Betty Halley to run the event with other volunteers. 

Crowding into a cafeteria during Friday night fish fries may be off, but not the taste of the Friday night Lenten meal.

Those who want a meal to pick up can call the church office and are directed to a voicemail box to place their order. Or they can do it online. As meals are prepared, people who placed the orders line up on Wade Avenue east of Tamm. Volunteers run into the kitchen to pick up the meals and deliver them to customers. 

One of those who came to pick up an order, Renee Miller, has been eating at the St. James fish fry for years.  So on Friday night, she came by to pick up four meals.

“It’s fine. You kind of have no choice,” Miller said.

One of the volunteers who ran out to take orders was Nolan Worley, a senior at St. John Vianney High School. 

“I think we’ll get all the creases ironed out, and then we’ll be [OK],” Worley said. One problem he has to deal with, he said, is people who want to place an order when they arrive, not order beforehand and just pick it up when they pull up. 

“It’s easier in that respect that we require pre-orders so we know what we need to cook,” Daugherty said. 

Officially, the deadline is Wednesday before the Friday fish fry, Daugherty said.

“But I was still taking orders about an hour ago,” she said a little after 4 p.m. Friday. Pickup times are from 4:30 to 7 p.m.  

On Friday, the volunteers filled about 60 orders, most involving more than one meal. Daugherty estimated the total number of meals at about 200. 

About 300 dinners were sold in the last dinner of 2020 before COVID-19 shut it down.

“The gym was literally packed,” fellow event leader Garneau said. Last year, Irish musicians entertained everybody. The event has long brought memories to the three leaders. 

“We’ve been doing this for years,” said the third leader, Halley. “We’ve been doing a lot here forever.”

But they haven’t tried to sell carry-out dinners during fish fry season. 

“When Father approached us, we originally thought this wouldn’t work,” Halley said. “This is the first time doing this this way. We’re all in training.”

Curbside pickup/take-out-only fish fries at St. James the Greater Catholic Church run 4:30-7 p.m. on Fridays through March 26 at 1360 Tamm Avenue (pickup is at the double brown doors on Wade Avenue). Online orders can be placed at  https://st-james-the-greater.square.site/ and phone ordering at 314-645-0167.

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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