St. Mary Pinckney Gets Creative with "Drive By Fish Fry"

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By Carissa Poroko

As area non-profits and churches begin Lent this week, two words come to mind: "fish fry."

Lenten fish fry season is upon us, and this year it arrives with extra suffering. At St. Mary in Pinckney, older parishioners who have quarterbacked traditional fish dinners for the past 25 years cannot risk the exposure this year. At the same time, faith-based organizations are in dire need of fundraising.

To meet the need and protect high-risk volunteers, St. Mary turned to school families who are now learning how to fish fry "on the fly." Through the passing of the torch, the Drive By Fish Fry was born.

Retired pharmacist and St. Mary parishioner Bob Phipps oversees the Lenten fish fry for six weeks every year. The effort generates tens of thousands of dollars for St. Mary parish and school. Phipps volunteers for the Livingston County Health Department in administering the vaccine and is keenly aware of the importance of maintaining safety guidelines.

Delivery day for Friday Night's dinner. Photo credit: St Mary Pinckney

"We knew we needed creativity and open minds this year without many of our regular volunteers and with the added challenges," said Phipps. "We had to account for everything from drive-thru traffic flow to plexiglass and even childcare to recruit new volunteers," he added. "We tackled all this while making sure to maintain our primary goal, which is to serve a great dinner for a good cause. It's been uplifting to see our school community step up, and we are coming out stronger for it."

Bob and his wife Cathy have been producing the fish fry with the St. Mary Men's Club for 15 years. She is a caterer and runs the kitchen while he coordinates 30-some volunteers who show up each week.

"We expect the draw to be closer, considering the times," said Phipps. That hasn't always been the case. Fish fry customers have visited St Mary from Canada, Ireland, Mexico, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Ireland. "This year, we are grateful to just feed our regulars."

Drive By Fish Fry starts February 19th and runs through March 26th. Open for business Lenten Fridays from 4 to 7 pm. Each evening produces around 500 meals. With this in mind, the St. Mary crew planned for carryout only production, social distancing and safety, and looked for new volunteers.

Luckily they didn't have to look far. St. Mary school parents stepped up to help with operations, volunteering, cleaning, and of course in the kitchen to cook that famous fish fry the community loves.

The delivery is just the beginning of the sorting, organizing, planning, and of course the cooking and serving. Photo credit: St Mary Pinckney

Amy Berry jumped into the effort to help feed the community as a new head chef. She was an ideal fit for a school mom who previously worked as a professional chef for the Detroit Athletic Club.

"I hope to serve a great fish dinner that becomes a destination for good food, good people, and a worthy cause," said Berry. "The Lenten fish fry is up against more competition since every restaurant in town is primarily take out. We are ready for it. As they say, I'm 'St. Mary proud' we came together to overcome the challenges of our time."

With all hands on deck and faith on their side, the team at St. Mary is trying all things new, including their fish supplier. Detroit-based Caramagno Foods, a family-owned fish distributer since 1910, supports Lenten fish dinners as part of their business model and Irish Catholic heritage.

"It’s been a struggle, and we are glad to be working through it,” said Denis Carmody, a truck driver for Caramagno who will deliver fish for six weeks to the St. Mary crew. “We depend on our fish fry volunteers, and we are thankful they are embracing the call.”

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