Brother Paul Senior and Eugene Brown in the early days of Friendly Chapel. (Photo courtesy of Holderfield family)
Brother Paul’s annual catfish fry is Friday, October 21, at Verizon Arena. Doors open at 5; line closes at 8. To-go available. Catfish, chicken, beans, slaw, rice, sweet tea.
The wife of a pastor sacrifices much, but in the matter of catfish, Cathy Holderfield is fine with the idea of this sacrifice.
The idea, in fact, was Cathy’s. If this is sacrifice, she says, she’s all in.
Her husband, the pastor for whom she is willing to sacrifice time and comfort, is Paul Holderfield, more commonly known as Brother Paul. He is the flat-topped (his hair, I mean) offspring of Brother Paul Senior, who founded the Friendly Chapel in North Little Rock after a career with the North Little Rock Fire Department. Paul Junior became pastor after his father died in 1998.
The Friendly Chapel runs a soup kitchen, which served 16,000 meals in 1981, the year it opened. So far in 2016, the church has served 45,000 meals.
The Friendly Chapel congregation is rich with people, but its people aren’t necessarily rich, so to support its soup kitchen, Friendly Chapel holds a fund-raising catfish fry, which has grown so large, that the church holds it in Verizon Arena every October.
By large, I mean, they sell upwards of 5,000 plates of catfish, chicken, fries, slaw, and beans, which diners wash down with a glass of sweet tea from the 250 gallons I brew in the Friendly Chapel kitchen. (Luzianne donates the tea every year.)
All the help is volunteer. The cooks, who provide their own fryers. Volunteers serve the food on the line, and in the back, they pack it in Styrofoam to go. They clean tables, sweep, take out the trash. Producer’s Rice donates rice and employees show up with their own cookers to prepare it.
Over the past five years, the price of catfish has doubled, so this year, the church raised the price of tickets by two bucks to twelve dollars.
So if the church sells 5,000 tickets, that’s sixty-thousand dollars, which would buy a lot of soup to hand out.
But that is not their take. I don’t know how other fundraisers work, but the Friendly Chapel has to cover its costs before it covers the soup kitchen.
Their costs include nine-thousand dollars to rent Verizon; nearly twenty-thousand for the catfish.
The soup kitchen costs $35,000 to $40,000 a year. The church covers the difference.
In the past, when the bills have settled, the supper has raised as little as $19,000 and as much, one year, as $35,000.
“If we only broke even on the deal, if we didn’t make a dime, we would still have it,” Paul says. “It’s a good thing for our community. It’s like an extension of the soup kitchen. A meet and greet. People learn about Friendly Chapel. And if we only make $15,000, that’s $15,000 we didn’t have. We don’t get too consumer with bottom line on the fish fry.”
Which brings us back to Paul’s wife, Cathy, who has offered a solution to the rising cost of catfish.
For the good of the cause, she says, she would forgo the comfort of hearth and home to fish every day for two months.
“I could fish from sunup to sundown,” she says. “If they’re biting, I’ll stay all day long.
“I’ve been fishing since I was four years old with my daddy and granddaddy. We fished in Conway at Dardanelle. Whatever took the bait. Catfish and bass. Bream. Crappie. Anything.”
She started with a cane pole and a cork. Now she fishes with a rod and reel. And a cork.
“I still like watching the cork go under. I have a hard time playing the fish. I just want to get it in.”
If a thousand people shared the sacrifice, gave up pleasures like mowing the grass and pressure-washing the deck, to fish for next year’s Friendly
Chapel fish fry, three pounds of dressed catfish per fisherperson could save Friendly Chapel $20,000.
“I don’t really fish anymore,” Cathy says. “I’ve probably got dust on my little Zebco rod and reel. I just don’t take the time.
“But if it were fishing for the fish fry …”