Royal Palm Beach | What do you do with a freezer full of fish ready to feed 350 people but no event to host?
This was the question the Knights of Columbus Council 12376 at Our Lady Queen of the Apostles Parish in Royal Palm Beach asked themselves as they assessed the parish kitchen in early May. Due to the current pandemic, the Knights’ Lenten Fish Fry — typically held Fridays during Lent — was canceled. The local council, led by Grand Knight José Calas, was able to host two fish dinners before public events were canceled throughout the diocese.
“The Lenten fish fries are one of our biggest fundraisers,” Calas said. “We use the money raised to support other charitable causes and the functions of our council. We realized, however, that we didn’t need to raise money to be charitable. We could repurpose our fish dinners to feed those in need of a hot meal during this pandemic crisis.”
On May 8, 2020 the council cooked and prepared 360 meals for contactless distribution that day. The meals included fried fish, fried shrimp, French fries and hush puppies. Also available for distribution were New England clam chowder and macaroni and cheese. Cooking started early in the afternoon, after which the meals were assembled for distribution. Council brothers and wives showed up in numbers to support this effort.
Jim Duemig, the parish business manager, worked with Father Andy Rudnicki, pastor, and Father Laurent Assenga, in distributing the meals through an efficient carline. Vehicles waiting in line were directed to open the trunk of their car or passenger window, and overflow waited in the first two to three rows of the church parking lot.
Father Rudnicki was humbled to see such a diverse group of people benefit from the fish fry. “What is special about our church is that we are the only Catholic parish in Royal Palm Beach. Our ministries draw a lot of people from various faiths because we are present in the community to serve.”
Like many parishes in the Diocese of Palm Beach during the pandemic, Duemig turned to technology to get the word out about the fish fry. He used Flocknote, text messaging and Facebook reminders to encourage parishioners to spread the news of the food distribution.
“Response from the community was overwhelming,” Duemig said. “There were many people in the line who were not parishioners, so word definitely spread to the surrounding community.”
Duemig said their strategy was to limit each car to two to three meals so that there was enough to go around. However, they gave extra meals to larger families when they could.
“The real treat was that Father Rudnicki blessed each car as it came around,” Duemig said. “I think people got a lot out of that.”
Calas added, “Many people are not only suffering economically or need food, but they are struggling spiritually as well. I think for them to see their pastor outside working hard to assist the community fed them spiritually and gave them hope to carry them through the rest of this pandemic.”
Calas shared that being able to facilitate a day of service on the parish campus provided a sense of normalcy and relief that many haven’t felt in the past two months. He was humbled to be a visible sign of hope alongside Father Rudnicki.