Fish, tenderloin dinner benefit

Volunteers with the Noble County Fair Association serve fish and tenderloin dinners during the September 2019 Tri-State Bluegrass Festival in Kendallville. Rising fish prices mean short supplies and no more all-you-can-eat events for some groups in the region.

Steep price increases and persistent concerns about COVID-19 have changed how some area fish fries are run. The popular events often serve as community fundraisers for various projects.

“We usually do about four fish fries a year,” Howard Gudakunst, fish fry chairman for Huntertown Lions Club, said. “Occasionally, we have done more.”

Alaskan pollock is the fish of choice for many fish fry organizers. However, Alaskan pollock prices are skyrocketing. Many sources cite the present supply chain disruption as the primary cause of continuing price increases.

Sometimes, the common white fish is simply unavailable at any price.

“It’s hard to get fish now and the prices have gone up. We cancelled a recent fish fry because we couldn’t get any fish,” Gudakunst said.

Family-owned food service distributors F. McConnell and Sons, Inc. (McConnell’s) in New Haven often sells fish to fish fry organizers.

“The current price of Alaskan pollock is $90 for a 25-pound case,” Lesley Andrews, purchasing manager for F. McConnell and Sons, Inc., said.

Similarly, the price of oil used to fry the fish continues to increase.

“The price of a 35-pound case of clear liquid fry oil has gone up dramatically every month. The price now is $50. In 2020 the price was $25,” Andrews said.

The Huntertown Lions Club, which organizes several fish fries every year, buys 150–400 pounds of fish for each fish fry from various suppliers in the Fort Wayne area.

“We are not in it to make money. We are in it to serve the community, but we still have to cover our expenses,” Gudakunst said.

Finally, many organizers once advertised fish fries as “all-you-can-eat” events. Not anymore.

“We are not able to offer all-you-can-eat because everything is getting so expensive,” Gudakunst said.

Some fish fries offer carry out or drive-thru service only.

“We found out it is much easier and the crowds are about the same,” Sally Schnitz, fish fry coordinator, said.

Schnitz organizes and coordinates the volunteers who help prepare and serve food at the fish fries.

Moving away from sit-down events has also reduced the number of volunteers who help prepare and serve food at the fish fries.

“We used to need 25 volunteers. Now we need 18,” she said. Adding, “We could never run a fish fry without the help of volunteers.”

Gudakunst said, “Everybody that helps with the fish fry is a volunteer. It is really a community thing.”

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