What’s better in this long, drab winter season than getting together with friends on a Friday night and enjoying a meal together?

For those who observe Lenten traditions, there are at least two opportunities ”“ and likely more ”“ on Friday evenings in Sanford and Saco now through April 11.

They’re baked haddock dinners, made by your uncle, your cousin or perhaps those nice folks who live down the street ”“ volunteers who host the public suppers during Lent, with the proceeds going to help various causes.

In Sanford, the St. Thomas Knights of Columbus, with help from two other local Knights councils, get together to host baked haddock dinners at St. Thérèse Parish Hall, also known as St. Ignatius Gym, on Riverside Avenue. The proceeds benefit a variety of charitable causes, including Waban Projects.

In Saco, a group of volunteers prepare haddock dinners to benefit St. James School, at Most Holy Trinity Church in Saco.

Bring on the haddock ”“ pounds and pounds of it ”“ along with the spuds and the veggies. And don’t forget those luscious homemade desserts.

And why fish, anyway? Well, because it’s Lent, the 40-day period that leads up to Easter. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, Lent began Monday, while Wednesday marked the start for others.

Lent is observed, to varying degrees, by Christians in a number of denominations, and particularly by Roman Catholics. According to the online magazine American Catholic, Catholics between the ages of 18-59 are obliged to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. As well, all Catholics 14 years old and older must abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all the Fridays of Lent.

So, think fish.

In Saco, organizer Cindy Ouellette said the most recent annual suppers to benefit St. James School started three or four years ago, though there were previous suppers going back a long way. If there’s no snow or ice, the suppers draw between 200 and 400 people each Friday night, she said.

She’s ordered 200 pounds of haddock for this Friday night’s repast, and she and the other volunteers will be in the kitchen, readying the mashed potatoes, rice pilaf, coleslaw and green beans. The potatoes used to be peeled by hand, but 200 pounds of potatoes is a lot of spuds, so now there’s an automatic peeler.

The baked haddock?

“Secret recipe we’ve been using for 20 years,” Ouellette said, firmly.

Coleslaw dressing?

“Secret recipe,” she said.

In Sanford, Dan Rooney and Frank Pease of the St. Thomas Council say the suppers are fun ”“ including the preparation.

Pease, said Rooney, “orchestrates everything.”

The Sanford suppers draw 150 to 200 people ”“ parishioners and non-parishioners alike. They’ll go through 80 pounds of haddock this week and 60 pounds of potatoes ”“ they serve a medley of Yukon gold, russets and sweet potatoes, said Pease. The dessert bar, he said, is very popular.

“They’re a lot of work, but a lot of fun,” said Pease of the Friday night suppers.

Doors open at 5 p.m., and usually, there’s a line waiting. Folks can dine onsite or place a takeout order if they prefer.

Both Pease in Sanford and Ouellette in Saco said folks come from far and wide for the meals ”“ from the surrounding areas and some from as far afield as Massachusetts and Connecticut.

“It gets people out,” said Pease. “It’s nice.”

Ouellette agreed.

“People can’t wait” for the annual baked haddock meals, she said.

In Sanford, baked haddock dinners, at $10 for adults and $4 for kids, are served from 5-6:30 p.m. on Fridays through April 11 at St. Ignatius Gym on Riverside Avenue.

In Saco, baked haddock dinners are served from 4-6:30 p.m. Fridays through April 11 at Most Holy Trinity Church, 271 Main St., at $10 for adults, and $4 for kids. Pizza, a beverage and dessert is also available for $4.

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or [email protected]

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