Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Community Spirit Always on the Menu at St. Rita’s Fish Fry in Blue Ridge Summit

Walk into St. Rita’s parish hall in Blue Ridge Summit on a Friday night in Lent and the first thing that becomes apparent – in addition to the aroma of fried fish – is a heaping helping of community, friendship and hospitality.

Service with a smile is always on the menu at St. Rita’s fish fry, which has been an annual event for the past few years. From the men frying fish on the back porch of the parish hall to the ladies filling plates and delivering meals to patrons – whether seated or ready for take-out – it’s a lively and welcoming atmosphere all around.

It’s a spirit that bodes well, not only for the Lenten fundraiser but also for the parish itself, as the friendly faces from St. Rita’s understand their volunteer efforts are a means of evangelization, even if it means doling out servings of fish, mac and cheese, coleslaw and cupcakes.

“We hope to bring the spirit of welcome with every activity we have here,” said Peggy Van Der Cruyssen. “Having community events like the fish fry helps us stay connected.”

Such was the case on March 8, during St. Rita’s second of three fish frys this season. While packing to-go bags and carrying plates to patrons seated in the parish hall, Van Der Cruyssen and her fellow volunteers – including members of the parish’s Women’s Society – checked in on their neighbors in the community. “How’s your wife? I hear she was under the weather.” “How’s your mom doing with her treatments this week?” “I saw your dad down at Sanders Market; he looks good.”

Father Peter DiTomasso, MSSCC, pastor of St. Rita’s and of Immaculate Conception BVM Parish just eight miles away in Fairfield, was making the rounds, too. When he wasn’t welcoming new patrons and joking with parishioners, he was supporting the volunteer team that makes the fish fry a smooth operation.

“It takes all hands to make this happen, and I’m so grateful for the volunteers,” he said of the crew of a dozen or so men and women. “We draw people from St. Mary’s in Fairfield, from Waynesboro and into Maryland for these events. Once word spreads, attendance picks up.”

The fish fry at St. Rita’s started several years ago, under the leadership of the late John Van Der Cruyssen. He previously captained the fish fry at St. Andrew Parish in Waynesboro when he and his wife Peggy sent their children to school there. Several years ago, he brought his expertise to St. Rita’s, where he also coordinated crab cake dinners and chicken barbecue fundraisers.

When John died last year, the fish fry volunteers carried on with his efforts.

“He started all of this, and we wanted to pick it up in his honor,” said Kevin Bilder, Parish Council President, as he monitored the filets frying on the back porch of the parish hall. “We know John would want us to continue this. He was a great person, and we’re doing this in his memory, trying to expand our reach.”

“The guys picking things up where John left off means a great deal to me,” Peggy said. “It’s a small community up here, and we care for one another and look out for each other. We want to make that evident in everything we do.”

St. Rita’s final fish fry this season is Friday, March 22 from 5-6:30 p.m. Cost is $15 for adults and $7 for children 12 and under. Eat-in or take-out, but tickets must be purchased in advance. Call Kevin at 301-471-8621 to order your tickets.

(Photos by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)

By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness

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