Parish fish fry aids community

Monday, June 04, 2018 - Updated: 11:59 pm

By William Cone Editor

Corpus Christi Parish in McKeesport continues to share the “catch” from its fish fry with the surrounding communities.

For several years, the parish has donated 10 percent of the proceeds from its popular Lenten fundraiser to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. This year’s contribution of $6,147.57 is part of about $55,000 that has been donated to the food bank in recent years.

“The reason we picked the food bank is we get a bigger bang for our dollar,” said Rich Keller, general chairman of the fish fry. “What we give them just buys a lot more than if we tried to do our own food pantry.”

Father Steven Palsa, who has been the parish administrator for 22 months, said it is important for the parish to model one of the corporal works of mercy, feeding the hungry. That emphasis was begun under the former pastor, Father Stephen Kresak.

“The idea of feeding the hungry was decided back in 2012 by Father Kresak and the committee that started this fish fry. That we should do something for the community, and feeding the hungry just felt right. And that’s what it’s been doing ever since,” Keller said.

He said Father Kresak wisely revamped the menu to include baked or fried fish, shrimp, tuna salad, assorted soups and homemade ethnic foods such as pierogies, haluski and palachinki (crepes).

The parish wanted to provide a great meal at a reasonable price, Keller said, “because we looked at our clientele. We had a lot of older people on fixed income. Lot of people who were borderline poverty and they couldn’t afford to go out a lot.”

Money from a tip jar at the fish fry and tips given to those who deliver meals is given to other local nonprofit organizations such as The Intersection and Sonshine Community Ministries.

“It’s grown into this great thing that everyone looks for at every Lent. It’s really turned into a good community-building effort for everybody,” he said.

The fish fry has helped reach out to a community that has struggled for many decades since the steel mills closed. The Catholic Church struggled right along with the local residents.

Corpus Christi is a consolidation of seven original parishes in McKeesport, with Corpus Christi and St. Patrick in McKeesport/Versailles remaining in the city.

More change is coming to the area that is related to On Mission for The Church Alive! Corpus Christi and St. Patrick are part of a grouping that includes St. Angela Merici in White Oak and St. Robert Bellarmine in East McKeesport. Father Palsa said a Corpus Christi parish mission is set for June 4-6 and a picnic is planned for September to bring together parishioners in the grouping.

“For many years we’ve been operating as individual parishes, and we don’t really work together that much,” he said. “So that’s what we’ve been trying to do to create a new community and help people get aquainted.”

It will be the responsibility of Father Terrence O’Connor, administrator of the parish grouping, to decide whether the Corpus Christi fish fry continues as is or moves to another location.

The fundraiser is held in the parish social hall at Eighth and Market streets in Downtown McKeesport, which was part of the former St. Peter Parish.

Keller said he expects the fish fry to continue next year. “But looking into the future, if we could use that model of how the fish fry brought the first three parishes together, why not continue that model to bring our new four parishes together and build community?”

Perhaps one of the other parishes in the grouping has equipment and room to grow the fish fry, which has reached its capacity at Corpus Christi, he said.

Wherever it ends up, a small army of volunteers will be essential to its success. Keller said about 50 volunteers are needed every week, with about 30 others who make pierogies. 

“I think if a parish gives their parishioners and their communities a purpose of why they’re doing this, they like supporting it because they know it’s going for a great cause.

“We advertise that 10 percent of the net goes to the community food bank, so when people come and they spend $20 they feel like they’re giving something back to feed the hungry. It’s not a lot, but OK they’re giving something back.”

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