- Associated Press - Thursday, March 26, 2015

MICHIGAN CENTER, Mich. (AP) - When Mark LaRocque first started the annual Fish Fry at Our Lady of Fatima 15 years ago, he only had a couple of turkey fryers and was hoping for a few hundred people to show up.

Now in an expanded kitchen at the church, the former grand knight of the Knights of Columbus No. 6687 says that seven commercial fryers, and 50 to 60 volunteers each week help feed the hungry crowds that often number nearly a thousand every Friday, according to the Jackson Citizen Patriot (https://bit.ly/1Hqcq8c ).

The event, which celebrates the Catholic tradition of abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent, is the biggest fundraiser for the Knights of Columbus No. 6687. Money raised goes to the John George Home, The St. Louis Center, Special Olympics, Boysville, and other groups supported by the knights.

People line up through the church for all they can eat fish, and it comes in three varieties that include fried, Cajun spiced, and baked. Sides and desserts are also offered. Last Friday LaRocque said that 984 dinners were served, but since the knights have been doing it for so long, every volunteer knows how to do their job very well.

“You honestly don’t wait that long in line,” LaRocque said about the people that come. “Maybe 10 or 15 minutes, if you’re the hundredth person back.”

In the kitchen, where the Alaskan pollock is prepped, Corey Hammen works the fryers with the other volunteers. In the 11 years that he has cooked fish to a crispy golden brown, he jokingly says that he no longer feels pain in his fingers of the sizzling oil.

Hammen estimates that they have gone through 900 pounds of fish each Friday, and while that is a lot of fish to cook in three hours, he said he enjoys the team he works with, and that it’s often a family affair of fathers frying fish with their sons and daughters.

The priest who presides over the parish, Father Tim MacDonald, said he loves seeing all the people that come out to the fish fry.

“What a wonderful thing,” MacDonald said. “To get a thousand people a week to come in a church on a Friday night, when they usually be in the mall, the theater, or a bar. That’s just a blessing.”

This Friday will be the last Fish Fry of the season.

___

Information from: Jackson Citizen Patriot, https://www.mlive.com/jackson

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