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Some parishes aren’t giving up Friday food for Lent this year

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Lent is a season of reflection and spiritual refocusing during the 40 days leading up to Easter. And while the period is known for abstinence and special days of fasting, Catholic culture also makes room for Lenten food traditions that build community, raise funds for charity —  and bring joy. 

As we head into the second year of the ongoing global pandemic, some parishes continue to put food events on hold. But a few have found ways to adapt and carry on, while accommodating social distancing, capacity limits and other safety requirements. 


St. James Church, Falls Church 

During Lent, Friday is a day of abstinence from meat. Hence the tradition of the parish fish fry. And one of the best-known frys in the diocese is now in its 12th year at St. James Church in Falls Church. “Snow, ice, and even a pandemic can’t stop the Fry,” its website proclaims. 

When the pandemic hit the area last March, the parish switched to a drive-thru model part-way through Lent, “and we served more meals than we have ever served,” said volunteer Julie Theobald, one of the coordinators. Last year, 4,100 meals were served, compared to 1,500 in 2010, she said. 

This year’s strict limit on indoor gatherings means fewer volunteers than in the past, so small teams are working in shifts, spread out across the kitchen, gym and parking lots, Theobald said. Everyone wears masks, takes temperatures and signs in for contact tracing. 

As in past years, the pace is hectic because “you’re frying fish and don’t know how many people you’re serving,” she said. But volunteers are gearing up for similar numbers to last year. 

“It’s a lot of fish — cases and cases of fish,” Theobald said. Volunteers buy frozen flounder and batter it themselves. Fish is available fried or baked, along with hush puppies, fries or baked potatoes, several sides and desserts.

A map on the fish fry website shows the drive-thru route: Cars wind through two parking lots. In the first, they place orders, which volunteers display on a card on the windshield. Other volunteers collect donations (suggested amounts are $7 for adults, $5 for kids 6-13 or $25 for a family). Then cars wind their way into the second parking lot, where runners match cards to orders and deliver your package to your car. Volunteers also sell T-shirts featuring fishy puns such as “Come for the Halibut!” (2011); “Don’t let your Faith Flounder” (2012); and “It’s O’Fish-ally Lent” (2018). This year’s says “Tunapage on 2020.” 

“We give away a lot of food,” Theobald said. “We want this to be a community activity to build fellowship during Lent.” She said the goal is to break even, and “people who can pay are usually very generous.” Any excess donations go back to the parish for social outreach.  

At St. James, “this is what we do on Friday nights,” Theobald said. “Normally, people would come eat, now they bring it home.”

The St. James Lenten Fish Fry takes place on Fridays from 5 to 8 p.m. through March 26. Go to sjfishfry.org.


Holy Spirit Church, Annandale 

Holy Spirit Church in Annandale has held Lenten soup suppers “for decades,” until the parish had to cancel last year because of the pandemic, said Renee “Lambie” Renner, director of parish activities and youth ministry. 

The parish was about to put the soup on hold again this year  — until Renner got an impassioned email from Genevieve Forrer, a high school junior who’s a member of the Knights of Columbus-sponsored girls service organization the Squire Roses. The email outlined a detailed proposal for how the suppers could go forward as a drive-thru this year. “They just wanted to do something because they didn’t want to feel so powerless,” Renner said.

“They’re my heroes, and I said, ‘OK, I can help you make this happen’,” Renner added.

“I was pretty confident the youth could do this,” Forrer said. 

So the event is going forward, with volunteer cooks signing up online to bring pots of meatless soup to the parish as in past years. But instead of being served on site, soups are dropped off on Thursdays, refrigerated overnight and then reheated in deep-dish aluminum tins and packed up hot for carry-out in single-serving 10 oz. and family-size 32 oz. heat-resistant styrofoam containers. 

Soups and crackers are picked up from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Fridays through March 26 in the church’s upper parking lot. No drinks or desserts are being provided this year, to keep it simple.

The event isn’t planned as a fund-raiser, but donations will be accepted; half go to parish outreach and half to the youth groups’ Workcamp fund.  

For more information, email Soupsupper@holyspiritchurch.us. To sign up to make soup, go to holyspiritchurch.us.


St. Agnes Church, Arlington

Meal kits are all the rage, so when the youth group at St. Agnes Church in Arlington was looking for a Lenten fundraiser this year, meatless meal kits seemed like a perfect option, said Mackenzie Jardell, coordinator of youth and young adult ministry. 

They borrowed the idea from the Catholic campus ministry at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where they had seen students posting about it on their social media feeds, said Jardell, who used to be a missionary at UVA. Youth ministry volunteer Katie Hofer suggested reaching out to learn more, so “we talked with the student who coordinated it there and she gave us all her ideas.” 

Jardell said the group is modeling recipes after Hello Fresh, a popular commercial meal kit service. “It’s kind of a creative and fun thing to do, and it’s all going to be meatless, so we’re having to get creative there too,” she added.  

Menus are posted online and parishioners can sign up for the meals they want; the first week was shrimp scampi, the second will be tortilla soup. The teens work in shifts in small groups to assemble the spices and ingredients and pack kits, which come with cooking instructions and all the ingredients, spices and sides needed to make the meal at home.

“You cook it all and have everything you need,” Jardell said. Kits include a mealtime prayer or reflection to share when you sit down to eat. 

Kits come in three sizes: two servings ($15), four servings ($25), or six servings ($35); payments can be made on the parish website through the online donation platform Faith Direct.

All proceeds will go for supplies and materials to repair homes during the week high schoolers attend WorkCamp, Jardell said. 

For more information, go to saintagnes.org/youth-group-fundraiser/ or email youth.ministry@saintagnes.org.


St. John Neumann Church, Reston  

St. John Neumann Church in Reston usually has a soup supper, Stations of the Cross and a speaker series on Fridays during Lent. “Obviously we can’t all gather and have soup, and Stations are virtual this year. So we said, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if you knew you were sitting down and having the same soup that everybody else was having at home?’” said Megan Rogers, communications director. 

“Last year we were all a little blindsided” by the pandemic, but this year there was more time to plan, she said. So the parish put out a call for cooks to share their favorite meatless soup recipes, and Rogers organized them into a Lenten recipe book that can be downloaded from the parish website. “You can have it on your laptop or on your tablet in the kitchen,” she said.

The collection includes minestrone, tomato bisque, Maryland cream of crab, roasted cauliflower, lentils with pasta and more. “There are some delicious-looking soups and we felt like it was a nice way to have some community connections,” Rogers said. 

Look for the cookbook download link on the Lent and Easter 2021 activities page under Stations of the Cross on the St. John Neumann website, saintjn.org/6059/lent-and-easter-2021

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021