One ton of whiting fish, 1,400 pounds of potatoes and 450 pounds of hush puppies sounds like a lot, but local Shriners said the amount prepared for Friday’s Spring Fish Fry pales in comparison to years gone by.
“There is a long history of Shriners doing the fish fries. Most of the time when someone hears about the Shriners, one of the first things they think of is the fish fries,” said Phillip Wells, chairman of the fish fry. “It really is more than a fundraiser. It is a tradition.”
In the 1970s, local members of Shriners International would serve an estimated 25,000 fish plates during an annual sale, backing up traffic near their club on Airport Road during peak hours. It was so strongly supported within the community that a local seafood restaurant reportedly would shut down for the day and tell people to get their fish from the Shriners.
“Everybody needs to eat fish on Friday,” past Shrine president Wayne Hill said.
The money raised during the fish fry will support operations of the club as well as go toward events the club has for the 26 Rocky Mount-area children currently receiving care from the Shriners Hospital for Children. Club spokesman Barry Mitchell said those children are at the heart of why each member joins, adding that “one trip to one of our hospitals is all the reason a man needs to join.”
“We get to meet these children from time to time and it makes it all worthwhile,” Mitchell said. “You’ll see them one year and they are in a wheelchair, but the next year they are using braces or crutches. When they walk up to you the next year, you know you’ve contributed to something great.”
Any child under the age of 18 with birth defects, physical impairments or burns are eligible to receive care through the Shriners regardless of their ability to pay.
In addition to about $15,000 donated to the hospital annually by the club, local members dubbed Roadrunners help drive patients and their families to the hospitals. Sudan Hospital Patient Services Coordinator Donna Horton said there are 29 roadrunners from the region that made more than 1,300 trips with families in six years.
“I wasn’t going to join initially, but when I read up on everything the Shriners do, I decided it was a very good cause and something I’d love to be a part of,” said Wells, who has been a member since 2010. “As an organization, everything we do goes to help someone else and we have a lot of fun doing it.”
At any given time Friday, 60 to 80 men and women will be helping prepare the fish and fixings, serve customers and deliver meals. It is a huge undertaking that members said they are glad to be a part of.