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CMU worker's online map of Lenten fish fries reels in viewers

| Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013, 11:41 p.m.
A line snakes through the North Braddock Volunteer Fire Department as lunch patrons get fish sandwiches Wednesday, February 13, 2013. Area fish frys will continue through Lent at many churches and fire halls on Friday's. This particular fish fry was on Hollen Barmer’s Lenten fish fry map. Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Sylvia Gutlowski gets replenished with fish during lunch at Prince of Peace Parish Wednesday, February 13, 2013. The church will cook around 200 pounds of fish throughout the day. This particular fish fry was on Hollen Barmer’s Lenten fish fry map. Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Tony and Peggy DeMartino enjoy lunch during the annual Fish Fry at Holy Angels Parish in Hays Wednesday, February 13, 2013. Tony has been attending the church for 77 years, including all 28 of the fish frys. This particular fish fry was on Hollen Barmer’s Lenten fish fry map. Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Hollen Barmer of Swissvale created a Google map of about 160 fish fries throughout Western Pennsylvania, including St. Maurice parish in Forest Hills. She went to the fish fry on Ash Wednesday, February 13, 2013. Heidi Murrin Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

In a region where fish fries go with Lent as much as black and gold go with fall Sundays, some folks still might need guidance on where to get their fried fix.

That's where Hollen Barmer's work might come in handy. Barmer, 34, of Swissvale, who moved from Memphis 13 years ago, crafted an interactive Google map to support her passion: visiting fish fries during the Lenten season.

“I did it because I wanted to see all the fish fries by location and … because I don't know all the neighborhoods in Pittsburgh because I haven't been here forever like many people,” she said.

The map, which shows 160 fish fries at churches, fire halls, businesses and other locations between Erie and Waynesburg, provides details about prices, menus and hours of operation.

Barmer started the map last year with just Pittsburgh-area fish fries, but it grew to include all of Western Pennsylvania and attracted 36,000 views.

“I didn't expect it to really do very much. I thought maybe a few people would find it interesting or useful, but I was really surprised when I got that many views,” she said.

In the first week of Lent this year, the map has tallied about 7,000 views.

“The Google map is so efficient and smart. … It allows me to check out what fish fries are available and open on my way home from work,” said Katie Vojtko, 25, of Shadyside, who works in digital marketing and social media at a software development company in McCandless.

Vojtko said she appreciates the integration of technology and tradition. Social media have helped spread the word about the map, she said.

Barmer, a writer/editor at Carnegie Mellon University's Software Engineering Institute, updates the map, pulling information from emails she gets from users and posts on a Facebook page she set up.

She generated the map by using online listings, the fish fry guide of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh and the online guide of the Pittsburgh Catholic, the diocese's newspaper.

The Catholic included a link to Barmer's map with its guide for a second Lenten season, said Carmella Weismantle, operations manager for the newspaper.

“Our goal is always to support the parishes, and this is one of the ways we do that,” Weismantle said.

The annual practice of hosting fish fries during Lent is tied to a 40-day period of fasting and penance before Easter that begins on Ash Wednesday for most Christians.

Although observant Catholics in particular abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent, fish consumption is allowed.

Barmer is a Christian but not Catholic.

“I love the community aspect of fish fries,” she said. “It seems like they're a great way to bring people together. They're rich with tradition. The food is good.”

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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