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Plenty of work goes into Kittanning fish fry

KITTANNING TOWNSHIP — Eaters with big appetites are welcome, even encouraged, at the Kittanning Township Fire Hall.

Every Friday during Lent, hundreds of fish lovers flock to the fire hall on Route 422 East to enjoy a meal of cod, fried or baked. If fish isn't your dish, the menu also includes shrimp or chicken. Every main course is accompanied by a choice of parsley potatoes, macaroni and cheese, halushki, pierogi, mixed vegetables, green bean casserole, various soups and fresh salads.

There's dessert, too — pudding, fruit cocktail or cake. The $9.50, "all you can eat" meal means diners can go back for seconds, thirds, even fourth or fifths. The cost for children 6-12 is $4.50; and children younger than 6 eat for free.

According to Greg Baker, the fire department's treasurer and assistant chief, preparing to feed hundreds of people is no small task.

"Our dinners are well attended," Baker said. "The first few weeks of Lent, we had about 300 people. But on the first weekend of March, we had 605 dinner guests. Our fish dinners will continue to and including Good Friday."

Where does all the food to feed 600 or more people come from• Baker said most of the food is delivered to the fire hall from a wholesale food supplier in Pittsburgh. The buns, vegetables and soft drinks, however, are purchased locally from DiMaio's Market in Rural Valley. The fire hall makes use of two large commercial freezers and a walk-in cooler to keep everything fresh.

Getting the food is only a small part of the job; the big job is preparing it all. For that, the fire company relies on a crew of about 15 to 20 volunteers. Their jobs vary from shredding cabbage, dipping the cod in a batter, preparing the pierogi and making soup thickener, to setting tables and setting up the buffet-style serving lines.

"It's all self-serve," Baker said. "People go through the line and help themselves. But if someone is disabled or elderly, or they need help with small children, we'll pitch in and help them get what they need and get them comfortably seated.

"A self-serve buffet eliminates a lot of work for us. But our preparations begin Thursday evenings. On Friday, volunteers are on the job at 8 a.m., and several are here through to 9 p.m. We open the doors at 4 p.m., close at 7 p.m. And it takes about two hours to clean up."

In addition to the Friday Lenten dinners, the fire company holds a turkey dinner on the second Sunday of the month during March, April and May and September, October and November. Turkey dinners are the same deal, buffet-style and all-you-can-eat for $9.50. Baker said the company has held an annual spring gun show, and volunteer kitchen help is kept busy serving french fries, hamburgers, coffee and soft drinks. This year, the fire company may add a second gun show in the fall.

"It is a lot of hard work," Baker said, "and we have some very dedicated volunteers, both men and women. But what this means is that the dinners, coupled with some donations and other fundraisers, make the fire company almost entirely self-sufficient. Kittanning Township helps us out with our insurance, but other than that, we work to generate virtually all needed revenue."

Baker said the Lenten dinners are a nice way to kick off the weekend, give Mom (or whoever cooks in the house) a chance to get out of the kitchen and allow everyone to go home with a full stomach and no dishwashing chores.

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