In era of coronavirus, fish fries find a way

Photos by Kayla Renie/The Herald
Volunteer Renae Verkamp of Schnellville hands a customer their meal during the Schnellville Community Club's annual fundraiser at the club on Friday. Fish fries are common fundraisers during Lent, but due to the rising need of social distancing because of COVID-19, organizers are opting to serve meals by drive-thru only instead.

By ALLEN LAMAN
alaman@dcherald.com

SCHNELLVILLE — They didn’t know what to expect.

The world isn’t the same now as it was when the Schnellville Community Club held its first fish fry in the mid-2010s. Workplaces, school buildings and businesses around the globe rest vacant, as people cautiously distance themselves from others to fight an enemy that can’t be seen.

COVID-19 changed life as we knew it. So, you can understand how fish fry organizers didn’t know how their annual fundraiser — the proceeds from which play a critical part in allowing the club to function and act as a beacon in the small community — would turn out on Friday, in a stripped-down form, without the close interactions that had become staples of the event in recent years.

The drive-through line was slated to start taking orders at 4:30 p.m. Half-an-hour before that, a line of cars and trucks had already congested the club’s parking lot and spilled out onto the nearby Schnellville Market Street.

Three minutes after its originally scheduled opening, with orders already flying out of the kitchen, Myron Betz, the community club’s president, gazed out at the line as it backed up further and further, all the way toward Schnellville Road.

“Real good,” he said when asked how the sight made him feel. “Because you didn’t know how it was gonna turn out.”

The money raised from the event goes to covering operational expenses, as well as completing renovations and updates to the club building and the grounds it sits on. With the club having to cancel reservations, the money raised became even more important.

Volunteers Jane Fischer and Mary Verkamp, center, both of Schnellville, prepare meals during the Schnellville Community Club's annual fundraiser at the club on Friday. Fish fries are common fundraisers during Lent, but due to the rising need of social distancing because of COVID-19, organizers opted to serve meals by drive-thru only instead.

“It’s really a good fundraiser,” said Carol Berg, who helped to organize the event, along with Mary Winters and other club members. “We have a couple of them a year, and the bills keep coming in.”

Myron explained that the club “had the fish already, so we had to go with it.” Before the fry was over, the club sold 400 meals, all complete with fish, cole slaw, German fries and a dessert. Members even had to turn a few people away after selling out.

Previously, the group has held euchre tournaments and invited people inside the building to congregate and share a good time at the fries. Friday, however, guests remained in their vehicles as they navigated through the lengthy pickup line that ended with them being handed bags loaded with grub. Fish was fried out back, and inside, volunteers fried potatoes and wore gloves as they packed plastic foam containers and handed off food to designated runners.

“We tried to follow the rules and still have a good outcome,” said Connie Betz, a club member who worked at the event and lives in the Schnellville area. She isn’t from the area originally, but she knows how welcoming the community is, and how important events are for the close-knit town.

Cindy Hoffman, who lives south of Birdseye, planned to arrive early to beat the rush, but she still got caught in the long, snaking line. She heard about the fish fry on the radio and saw her purchase as a way to “participate and help the community out,” she said from the driver’s seat of her car as she sat in queue.

“I just think everybody needs to step up to the plate and help each other out in a time of need like this,” Hoffman added.

Dozens of cars line up to buy catfish fillet dinners at the Schnellville Community Club on Friday. Fish fries are common fundraisers during Lent, but due to the rising need of social distancing because of COVID-19, organizers opted to serve meals by drive-thru only instead. There were a total of 400 meals made, and dinners were served until soldout.

Customers came from throughout Dubois County, and volunteers thanked each of them for coming out. Kevin Fischer of St. Anthony came by to pick up dinner for his family.

“I live in the community, so I believe in backing it and supporting it,” he said from his truck.

Fish fries also took place in other places across the county on Friday. In Ferdinand, St. Benedict’s Brew Works sold close to 300 meals to-go. Owner Vince Luecke said the monastic brewery will decide Tuesday if it will plan another one for this Friday. If so, it would be drive-through only with carryout sales of growlers. Beer is also being bottled for takeout.

In Celestine, Happy Hour Sports Bar & Grill sold about 260 carryout fish dinners, and a lot of pizzas, too. The fish used was originally supposed to be supplied to the Celestine Community Club for a shooting match, but because that gathering was canceled, sales of the stocked-up fish took place at Happy Hour.

Owner Jeremy Betz said a portion of the money from those sales will go to the Celestine Community Club, and a pan of leftover fish will be donated to the Grace Co-Op of St. Isidore Parish. Another fry will be held at the Celestine location this Friday, and it will benefit a yet-to-be-determined community organization.

“We really had no idea what to expect,” Betz said of last week’s event. “But I think … it was better than we had expected it to be. I thought it went about as smoothly as it could have went.”




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