Baking and fish-frying duo Lorraine Sutton and Cindy Sanford are preparing for Bethlehem United Methodist Church’s 45th annual fish fry event with over 1,800 pounds of catfish and lots of blueberry bars.
Friends since 2001, Sutton and Sanford are two of the many volunteers that work to bring about 4,000 people to the all-you-can-eat event every year.
The menu offers a meal of catfish, hushpuppies, white beans and cole slaw. This year, Pied Piper Creamery will supply ice cream, and a variety of desserts will be available at the bake sale during the event, where Sutton will provide the signature bake: Bethlehem blueberry bars.
Bake sale chair Jane Speer said the church members provide the very best, from cupcakes to bread to cookies.
“The church is known for some of the best bakers in Franklin,” she said.
Sanford said she’s been with the Bethlehem United Methodist Church (BUMC) for about 32 years and has been volunteering at the fish fry most of that time. She met Sutton when she joined the church and church choir 18 years ago and, upon meeting Sutton, roped her into volunteering at the fish fry too.
“The running joke used to be that you had to be a fish breader to sing in the choir or, if you sang in the choir, you would become a fish breader because I usually recruited all choir members to become fish breaders,” Sanford said.
The fish fry acts as a fundraiser for the church’s mission trips. Sanford said they sometimes organize several yearly, based on needs around the nation, but lately, BUMC has been taking one big trip per year to the Dominican Republic, where church members help build schools, run vacation Bible schools and more.
Sutton said she went on a mission trip with BUMC to Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina to help rebuild houses flattened by the storm.
“All you saw was remnants of houses,” she said. “One of the first things I did — which touched me and touched everybody on the mission — was, one of the first days, we had to go clean out a garage, and I saw this book on the ground that was all covered up and was all muddied, and it was a Bible. So, we just put it back up on the shelf hopefully.”
Not only do fish fry admission costs and the bake sale help pay for these missions, but the church also holds a silent auction with items like gift baskets, sports tickets and home décor.
Sutton said some people who own summer vacation homes will even auction off a private stay. Sanford also mentioned that a big draw of the auction is a full staff dinner.
According to fish fry chairman Mike Loring, the event will also have bluegrass and swing music and a free children’s area, which Sanford said in the past has included bounce houses, face painting and snow cones.
Along with having “the best catfish in town,” Sanford and Sutton said the welcoming environment keeps people coming year after year.
“I’m always amazed at the number of people that come,” Sutton said. “It takes the whole church to put this on, and it’s just very rewarding to be part of it.”
The fish fry will be held on the grounds of the Bethlehem United Methodist Church on Friday, July 19, from 4:30 to 8 p.m. Tickets for adults are $10 in advance and $13 on the day of the event. Children under the age of 10 are $6, and children under 3 are free.
For more information (including the recipe for Sutton’s Bethlehem blueberry bars), visit bethlehemumc.com/fishfry2019.