For 50 years, the fish fry at St. Benedict Parish in Blue Island has been helping Catholics abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent and supporting the parish at the same time. More than 80 volunteers from across the parish offer their time on Thursdays and Fridays to pack and serve food, clean tables, sell raffle tickets and more. There’s homemade coleslaw and tartar sauce and the fish is hand-battered. Pickled beets, Polish rye bread and french fries round out the offerings. Lemonade and coffee come with the meal, and soda and alcohol can be purchased at the bar. Cost is $10 for adults and $3 for children 12 and under. Nena Ziolkowski, from the parish women’s club, has overseen the fish fry for 15 years and has been volunteering for 37. When the women’s group started the fish fry they served about 200 dinners each Friday. Now they sell over 1,000 meals during lunch and dinner and fry or bake 800 pounds of Alaskan pollock. On the first evening of the fish fry, Feb. 28, they closed early because they sold out of food. The fish fry raises over $34,000 each year for the parish. It’s held in the basement beneath the church and each Friday students from the school come for lunch. Volunteers start working Thursdays, making the homemade tartar sauce and coleslaw. The recipes for both belong to Mary Tramutolo, 90, who can be seen working in the kitchen during the lunch rush. On Fridays, volunteers arrive around 6 a.m. to continue preparations and rotate in and out through 8 p.m. What makes the fish fry special is the volunteers who come back each year and the dedicated patrons, Ziolkowski said. “It is just amazing the allegiance and the loyalty they have to this parish. A lot of them have moved away but it’s a coming home time,” Ziolkowski said. “This is St. Benedict’s. This is home.” Both Gloria Rose and her sister Mary Origel have been helping in one way or another since the fish fry started when they were children. “We’ll probably keep doing it until we can’t move,” said Rose, who collects money from patrons during lunch. She has seen attendance at lunch grow over the last few years, with people coming from all over Chicago to eat. People will also get off the train at the Metra stop near the church, pick up meals to go and get back on the train to go home, she said. Jeanne Cabrera is one of the many people who grew up coming to the fish fry because her parents volunteered. “My husband and I have gotten recruited and we’ve done a lot of different jobs,” Cabrera said while eating lunch at the fish fry with her husband and father. “We’re always eating. We like to visit. We see lots of people when we come.” Cabrera’s father, John Caswell, said when he was younger and healthier he would help cook. Now he helps sell raffle tickets during the evening meals. “It’s a lot of dedicated people who make the fish fry go,” he said. The fish fry is open Fridays from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 4 -7:30 p.m. For information, call 708-385-8510.