GRAND RAPIDS, MI – National supply chain issues amid the COVID-19 pandemic are hitting close to home this month as some West Michigan schools have been forced to cancel a community tradition beloved during the Lenten season: Fish Fries Fridays.
With the start of Lent on Wednesday, March 2, many Catholics and other Christian groups will abstain from meat on Fridays and turn to fish, with local churches and schools serving fried fish dinners as part of of a fundraising effort.
But West Catholic High School in Grand Rapids, which typically serves up to 1,400 people every Friday during Lent, will not be able to offer its weekly fish fry dinners this year due to high prices and low supply. fish,” said Cynthia Kneibel, director and CEO.
It will be the first time in 13 years that the school has had no fry, she said.
Kneibel said the school usually buys its fish in bulk during the summer, when fish prices are lowest. But when staff went to buy their normal order of fish last summer, their regular suppliers could not meet the large order, she said.
“When we went to place our normal order, there was no fish,” Kneibel said. “They couldn’t fill our order.”
The school tried to wait until the fall to see if prices would come down, she said. But by December, fish prices had risen by 50% and suppliers still couldn’t place the school’s order.
“This higher cost would have increased the price of our meals from $12 to $18 per meal just to make the same profit,” she explained. “At this point, it’s unclear if people would be willing to pay $18 per meal.”
“We couldn’t risk a loss. With all of this uncertainty, it was just a little scary to say that we’re going to be moving forward with way too many unknowns.
Muskegon Catholic Central encountered similar pricing and availability issues this year, forcing the private school to cancel its popular Fish Fry Fridays, President Ken Rasp announced in a February Facebook post.
“It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but we think it’s necessary for 2022,” Rasp said in the Feb. 23 post. “We couldn’t see an essential profit margin for the effort.”
Rasp also cited staffing issues in the decision to cancel Fish Fry Fridays. He said the event required a lot of work from maintenance staff to set up each week, and the school’s maintenance department was currently understaffed to keep it running.
“Given the current staff, we did not believe we could provide a vital school environment, particularly the preparation of outdoor grounds and courts for spring sports and Fish Fry Fridays,” Rasp said.
Kneibel said the cancellation of Fish Fry Fridays is a huge loss of revenue for the school this year. The event typically raises about $20,000 for Western Catholic Athletics each year, which is included in the school’s annual budget.
That money helps fund everything in the athletic department budget, from student uniforms to equipment repairs, Kneibel said.
The principal said she hopes to replace those dollars at the school’s annual golf outing this year, scheduled for Friday, June 4 at Western Greens Country Club.
Fish Fry Fridays also allowed the community to gather in person, which Kneibel said was much needed after the last two years of the pandemic.
“It’s been a little sad because while we’re definitely doing some frying to supplement our sports budget, we also love being able to bring the community together,” she said. “We were looking forward to getting out of the community together, but that’s just not going to happen this year.”
Kneibel said she is encouraging families to go and support other local fish fries during Lent this year. The Diocese of Grand Rapids offers a list, available here, of fish fry dinners held at churches and schools across West Michigan during Lent 2022.
“Support your local fish fries at churches, at legions, at different clubs around town, because those are great fundraisers,” Kneibel said. “And especially organizations that don’t quite make the amount that we do, they should have a lot of fish.”
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