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Movies in the pumpkin patch

The Salvation Army in upstate New York* held “Movies in the Pumpkin Patch,” a drive-in movie event, during Columbus Day Weekend at the Washington County Fairgrounds. For two nights, as many as 500 cars seating a total of 1,500 people converged on the grounds. But before the films rolled, organizers showed several videos highlighting The Salvation Army’s work during COVID-19 and the #RescueChristmas efforts.

“It certainly was a creative way to raise money, but I think we’re trying to do more than raise money,” said Major Leo Lloyd, the corps officer in Glens Falls, N.Y., and a lead organizer. “We’re trying to raise awareness of The Salvation Army’s mission and engage people in it. I think when people are engaged, the donations follow.”

Lieutenant Bree Barker, one of two corps officers in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., said, “They were a captive audience and got to see who The Salvation Army really is. I think that was eye-opening for a lot of people.”


Letting their light shine

While under the spotlight, Lloyd shared with the audience his first Salvation Army experience. He also explained the history of jack-o-lanterns as a tool to keep away demons and evil spirits. He contrasted that purpose to the light of Christ that will come as the Christmas season beckons.

“We had people singing ‘This Little Light of Mine.’ We talked about this message of doing good and called people to do it and they applauded,” Lloyd said. “They wanted to be a part of it.

“It was a bit of an open-air meeting, but it was more than that. We were presenting the gospel of Christ, and speaking about some of the things in the news today.”

Lloyd said the event also promoted diversity and harmony at a time of great division in America. The Salvation Army videos showed everyone working together for a common good. He was excited to show how the Army is a “spiritual army, doing the most good for the most people in the most need.”

“They were all at a Salvation Army event, hearing the gospel, and doing good,” he said. “More than finances, we had hundreds of individuals driving away from a Salvation Army event, informed and teed–up to get involved with the mission.”

The movies included “Jurassic Park,” “Ghostbusters,” and “Hotel Transylvania” and were shown on four of the world’s largest inflatable movie screens, each with 1,000-watt sound systems.

COVID-19 safety precautions were in place. Cars were parked more than 6 feet apart on the spacious fairgrounds. Each row was 14 feet apart and moviegoers had to wear masks when outside their vehicles.


Ready for fun

Barker said movie theaters remained closed due to COVID-19, but organizers noticed that drive-in movies were doing a booming business.

“We wanted to do something that would just encourage families and individuals to smile and to have something to do during this time,” she said.

Barker said that, at $20 per carload, the event was also affordable.

The movie night netted a few thousand dollars after expenses. Barker said that would help her corps, which lost its huge Red Kettle racegoers who donated each summer at the Saratoga Raceway. This year, the horse races went on, but the usual spectators stayed home.

Barker said an event like “Movies in the Pumpkin Patch” is a creative way to recoup some of the losses.

“There are so many options,” Barker said. “We can’t do some of the traditional ways of raising money, like bell ringing, but there really are so many other options, as long as we’re providing something that is valuable to the donor.”


Bigger plans

Lloyd, who was recently appointed as the Capital Region Program Development Officer, said the movie night was organized by the newly formed Doing the Most Good Events team.

“This was just the first of what we hope will be many events,” Lloyd said. “We hope the events are somewhat entertaining, encouraging, and educational, but more than that, we hope they engage people to want to be part of The Salvation Army and the mission.

“I think we hit a grand-slam home run with this first event. That’s the feedback that we’re getting from the participants. A person said, ‘I learned more about The Salvation Army going to a drive-in movie event than I could have imagined, and I want to join The Salvation Army.’”

Barker agreed that raising the awareness alone was worth the effort.

We really feel like this first event will be a catalyst for future events,” she said. “Hopefully, COVID won’t be around next year. We plan to do the event again and expand it to involve some performers on a stage or a fall festival.”

Barker said, “Movies in the Pumpkin Patch” was organized in just three or four weeks. With more time to plan, she would like to see the event one day resemble the popular Pier Ministry held each summer at the Old Orchard Beach, Camp Meetings in Maine.

“That’s kind of the ultimate goal,” she said. “We believe that, in four or five years, this could cover our kettle effort.”

*The Salvation Army in upstate New York serves Warren, Washington, and Saratoga counties.

by Robert Mitchell