NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - Thousands of people started their weekend with full stomachs and full hearts.
Friendly Chapel hosted its 30th Fish Fry Friday evening at Verizon Arena, serving up catfish, chicken, and care. Roughly 5,000 people ate all the fried catfish and chicken they wanted, but their hunger will help provide tens of thousands of meals for people who are truly hungry.
Friendly Chapel served 50,000 meals from its soup kitchen in 2015. That is one of the services the church, led by Brother Paul Holderfield, offers.
“Dad used to say, people would say, ‘why do you feed those bums?’” Holderfield recalled. “And he’d say, ‘we don’t feed no bums! We feed men and women made in the image of God, and something has happened in their life.’”
“He’s so awesome,” Casey Brockman said “if you need anything, need any kind of help, come to this man. He’ll sure help you!”
Tens of thousands of people have attended the annual fish fry over its three decades, but it continues to draw new attendees.
“I’ve been (in the church) since I was about 12 years old,” said Ben Scott, who volunteered. “This is the first one I ever did, and I’ve enjoyed it and had fun tonight.”
The smell of fried catfish carried all the way out the door of Verizon Arena. Approximately 450 volunteers served the crowd, many of whom Holderfield would consider among his hundreds of success stories.
“People that are just kind of able to get a little hand up,” he explained, “and just kind of run with it. We also have sheltered people that kind of come in and obey the rules and get a spiritual background, and able to save money and leave. Most of the time they stay long enough to save $4,000-5,000, so they’re in a position they’ve maybe never been in.”
A crowd started forming before the doors opened, and lines remained long throughout the evening. Tables covered most of the arena floor, and empty seats were hard to find. People could eat as much as they wanted, or take a container full of food to go.
Holderfield did not get a chance to sit and enjoy the evening, because he was too busy posing for photos or talking to everyone he has met through his work. He claims he gets more from his ministry than he gives, but the 5,000 hungry people who joined him proved him wrong.
“We have people that are in need every day,” said volunteer Dottie Johnson. “And they come to Brother Paul, and Brother Paul always finds a way to help them out.”
The fish fry raised around $28,000 last year. Holderfield said he thought he would raise either the same amount or a little more this year.