St. Thomas More Church was filled Friday with sounds of laughter and conversation, the aroma of food and scurrying of hardworking volunteers as people enjoyed baked and fried fish during the season of Lent.

Those participating in the religious observance or craving fish picked up or ate meals prepared by St. Thomas More Knights of Columbus volunteers. They cooked 120 pounds of fish — breaded and fried pollock and baked cod — with macaroni and cheese, au gratin potatoes, cole slaw and tartar sauce for 250 people.

St. Thomas More Knights of Columbus hosts a fish fry on Fridays every year during Lent.

Joe Mainey of Knights of Columbus was in charge of the fish fry; he’s helped for about 17 years. Mainey said the macaroni and cheese is the best side.

Catholic tradition requires members to abstain from eating meat of warm-blooded animals on Fridays during Lent, which led to fish becoming a part of Friday meals.

Lent is a period of 40 days, beginning at Ash Wednesday and ending before Easter, when Catholics observe fasting and abstaining from something of their choosing. It mimics when Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights in the desert.

“I give up meat on Fridays,” he said. “And I’ve kind of always been, rather than just give up something, do something for the community, so I’ve always thought this is part of my service for the community.”

Additionally, volunteer Jay Borja was on hand to help. He said his favorite part about volunteering is the cooking.

Every year, he prepares a special sauce for the fish, which includes soy sauce, lemon juice, onion, green onion and ginger.

“It’s been handed down from generation to generation,” he said about the sauce.

Manhattan residents Chuck and Melody Sexton said this was their first time attending the fish fry. Chuck preferred the fried fish while Melody favored the baked one; Melody said Borja’s special sauce made the baked fish taste even better.

“You have to have this,” she said about Borja’s special sauce.

For the couple, it was a delight to eat in-person after the pandemic has kept them shut-in for awhile.

“It’s wonderful to be able to come here and sit and have a normal meal,” she said.

“It’s a return to a more normal,” Chuck added.

People could take the meal to-go or sit inside and eat. St. Thomas More will host three more fish fry events for the rest of Lent on March 12, 19 and 26. The volunteers do not serve a meal on Good Friday. The first two weeks consisted of take-out only meals, Mainey said. Because of loosened restrictions by the Riley County Health Department, people on Friday had to opportunity to eat inside the church, at 2900 Kimball Ave., if they wanted to; the meal was free, but organizers accepted donations.

“It’s damn good,” William Smallwood said about the fish fry. “It’s very good.”

Smallwood, a Manhattan resident, ate with his wife on Friday; he has eaten at this fish fry for many years.

“They cook the fish pretty good,” he said. “They ought to open up a restaurant.”