WINCHESTER — People started lining up at 4 p.m. Friday to chow down on hand-battered fish while also supporting a local nonprofit organization.
The 18th Concern Hotline Friday Night Fish Fry took place Friday at Grove’s Winchester Harley-Davidson. All proceeds from the Fish Fry benefited Concern Hotline — a nonprofit organization that offers anonymous crisis intervention, suicide prevention and referral services 24 hours a day every day of the year.
“It’s not about the food, it’s not about the [Voice of the Valley Karaoke] contest,” said Concern Hotline Executive Director Rusty Holland. “Almost everybody here knows what it’s all about. Today starts Suicide Awareness Month. What better way to bring awareness than with events like this?”
The event is Concern Hotline’s major fundraiser. According to Holland, the proceeds typically cover about one-third of the organization’s annual budget.
At the event volunteers battered and fried 1,080 pounds fish that was donated from USA Seafood and Produce. Holland said he had to order an additional 75 pounds of fish on top of the approximately 1,000 pounds they planned for due to advanced ticket sales.
“We have enough to feed 2,540 people,” he said.
One of the event volunteers, Dean Scott, of Frederick County, was tossing fish in a “super secret, never gonna tell ya breading recipe” before it took a swim in a deep fryer. In an assembly line fashion, fish was brought off a truck, breaded, fried and then transferred to volunteers who served the meal. Scott said he went through breading quickly. When it started to run low or get clumpy he tossed it for a fresh batch. He planned to be at that station throughout the duration of the event.
“We’ll be here until we run out of time or run out of fish,” he said.
Scott has volunteered at the Fish Fry for about six years.
“It’s a great cause,” he said about Concern Hotline. “People always need help. It’s a good place to go, no matter the reason… It’s always good to have an open ear.”
Brett Payne from Throx Market and Brian Jones at Piccadilly’s Public House teamed up to make close to 600 pounds of red beans and rice to go along with the fish. Other sides were cole slaw and cornbread prepared by Bob Stutts at Glory Days Grill. Sugar cookies from Bonnie Blue Southern Market and Bakery and pizza from Papa John’s were available for guests along with water from Culligan and sodas from RC Cola.
This year, 80 players from the Shenandoah University baseball team pitched in as volunteers.
Friends Symantha Zeimet, of Strasburg, and Zorina Sale, of Frederick County, got in line early in the evening to enjoy the meal. This was Zeimet’s first time at the event.
“I was amazed,” she said. “I had no idea it’s this big.”
This was Sale’s third time at the Fish Fry. For someone who doesn’t usually like fish, she said the fish at the fry is her favorite.
“I’m very impressed with the food,” she said. “The cause is great as well.” For the second year, entertainment was provided by the Voice of the Valley Karaoke Contest. Twenty-one singers took the stage to sing their favorite tunes. The competition’s top prize was $ 1,000, followed by $ 500 for second place and $ 200 for third.
Cindy Gray, of Frederick County, and her family came to hear their friends Tyler Gene and Gary Clark perform in the contest.
“Everybody’s been good so far,” she said of the singers. “It’s good music, good friends and good food. You can’t go wrong.”