HOBART — It seemed like old times Friday in the kitchen of the St. Bridget Parish Center. Nearly a dozen members of the St. Thomas Council Knights of Columbus were busy, preparing shrimp and fish dinners, just as they do every Lent.
Only thing is, Lent is long past, and, due to COVID-19, those Knights’ fish fries were reduced from six to three dates.
Fish fries have benefited the Knights and St. Bridget Parish. This time, however, the beneficiaries were folks whose service to the common good has come into focus since the quarantine.
The Knights, a Catholic men’s fraternal organization, donated meals to Hobart’s first responders. These included all staff at St. Mary Medical Center, along with police and fire personnel.
The Rev. Benjamin Ross, pastor at St. Bridget, noted, “We thank them for their selfless service in keeping us as safe as possible. They and their families are in our prayers.”
Martin Ruzbasan of the Knights said this is the first time his organization has held such a benefit.
“Don’t worry about collecting money from them,” Ruzbasan told volunteers taking orders.
In a system revised for the coronavirus, patrons entered the St. Bridget gym and placed their orders. Patrons then proceeded to a socially distanced area, as volunteers took their orders to the kitchen. Once the orders were filled, a volunteer bagged the meal and called the patron’s name.
“I’m hoping we can do this so no one has to wait more than five or 10 minutes,” Ruzbasan. “People get their orders and then they’re gone.”
All meals, including those to first responders and the general public, were carryout only.
For hospital staff, the Knights prepared 250 takeout dinners. Then, using banana boxes borrowed from the Hobart Food Pantry — a Knights charity — volunteers filled a van with more than 40 boxes of meals headed for the hospital.
Carmen Lenzo of the Knights explained that after the coronavirus quarantine shut down the remaining three K of C fish fries, the organization kicked around several ideas for using the remaining fish and shrimp, which was frozen.
“We hadn’t done anything for the community for a long time,” Lenzo said, “and then we thought about doctors and nurses and police and fire.”
The Knights contacted hospital and city officials for their approval, after which more fish was purchased. In addition to the 250 meals to the hospital, the Knights planned on another 50-75 meals for police and fire. Then, to support the project financially, carryout meals were made available to the public.
Wearing an apron with the message, “It always tastes right when served by a Knight,” Lenzo said, “I think this is great. We’ve gotten a lot of good response from the community for doing something.”
Janice Ryba, hospital CEO, expressed her thanks for the Knights’ gesture.
“Our entire team at Community Healthcare System, including St. Mary Medical Center, deeply appreciates all of the support from members of the community and organizations across Northwest Indiana.” Ryba said. "Meal donations such as this have been great morale boosters for front-line staff caring for our patients throughout this pandemic.”
Raul Serrato, who works security at SMMC, echoed Ryba’s gratitude.
“This is great, because we’ve gone through a lot. Hobart has gone through a lot,” Serrato, a shrimp lover, said. “To have something like this is fabulous. The Knights have always gone to bat for us.”
Hobart Fire Department Battalion Chief Mark Slonaker added, “This is incredible and I appreciate it.”
A 26-year firefighter, Slonaker called life during COVID-19 “just another day, just a different type of challenge to deal with.”
Rich Rajski, a Knight and chef, directed traffic in the busy kitchen, urging volunteers, “Don’t stop. Just keep on working.”
Rajski van carried food to the hospital. As he noted, “It’s been a long time since we’ve done something for first responders. We plan to do more in the future.”
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