VIENNA — It was two years ago this week that St. Thomas the Apostle Parish held its last dine-in fish dinner before the pandemic hit.
On Friday, the Vienna-based parish opened its doors once again for in-person dining in the church hall. Last week’s dinner was still carryout, but with COVID-19 numbers declining, organizers deemed it safe to return to the dine-in option this week.
On March 4, the first Friday of Lent, the church sold 339 carryout meals and was expecting to sell more than 600 meals Friday.
Joe Filipovich, one of the fish-fry organizers, said that on Fridays during Lent the church does a drive-up fish sandwich event for lunch 11 am to 1 pm, and then has a baked and fried fish dinners 3 to 6 pm with a dine-in and carry-out options.
He said he has no problem gathering volunteers to help prepare and serve the dinners.
“We have a wonderful group of people from the parish who volunteer. I myself get here at 7 am and leave when we are done cleaning up. It is a long day for everyone,” Filipovich said.
He said the rising cost of fish forced an increase in the dinner price from $10 to $12.
“We did increase the cost, but we are still absorbing more of the costs ourselves. The fish went up from $43 a case to $53 a case. The fish was our largest increase, but everything went up a little since we buy carryout containers,” Filipovich said.
During the pandemic, the church was limited to a drive-thru carryout dinner with fewer menu choices. He said the menu has returned to what it was before COVID-19 with pierogies, coleslaw, potatoes and applesauce.
People dining in walk through an assembly line and select items.
Filpiovich said he retired last year and worked all his life for himself and now he wants to spend his time “working for God and the church.”
Linda Delacourt of Brookfield, who handled coleslaw, said, “I want to do my part and help at the church. I feel that having people eat inside will help them feel like things are back to normal.”
Natalie Misalko of Liberty, who served applesauce, said, “It is nice to bring the community back inside. We all like to give of ourselves whatever way we can.”
Suzanne Livingston of Brookfield said, “This is marvelous that we are back inside. I was shocked when everything closed in 2020.”
Don and Kathy Warchol drove from Hermitage. Pa., for the dinner said and it was wonderful to eat inside again.
“We were looking forward to coming back,” Don said.
“The fish here is so good. That is why we come here,” Kathy said.
Jerry Piehuta of Brookfield said the last dine-in dinner was March 13, 2020.
“It’s nice to have a sit-down dinner again. We did carryouts, but that is not the same as getting to come inside and eat. They prepare a lot of fish for these dinners,” he said.
St. Brendan Church on the West Side of Youngstown also increased the price of its fish dinner by $2 — from $11 to $13.
Volunteers on Friday were busy preparing more than 500 takeout dinners at Maxwell Hall. While the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided, St. Brendan’s won’t reopen its dining room to customers until next year when the church celebrates its 100-year anniversary, said Patty Infante, the fish fry co-coordinator.
“The price of fish has gone up,” she said. “I got sticker shock when I looked at the bill. It was an increase of $2 a pound for fish. But you don’t want to raise the price too much. We still have the same menu and are still serving what we have for years.”
Joani Allen, who purchased six fish dinners Friday at St. Brendan and comes weekly during Lent, said the extra cost “is no biggie to me. It’s worth every penny. I don’t have a price I wouldn’t buy it at. I wish they were open all year.”
The dinner includes beer-battered, fried or Cajun cod with sides of haluski, macaroni and cheese, parsley potatoes and french fries. It also includes coleslaw, applesauce and cake.
Lunches of sandwiches and a side is available for $8.
The hall is open for pickups 11 am to 1 pm and 3 to 7 pm Fridays through April 8.
Those wanting to order ahead can call 330-799-3683.
St. Brendan, which started selling the fish dinners 29 years ago, has seen a decline in volunteers, Infante said. That has to do with the church having an older congregation more than anything else, she said.