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Community comes together to develop drive-in movie theater

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ST. IGNATIUS — In an effort to bring the community together while continuing to physical distance,  volunteers came together to create a drive-in movie theater.

The idea for the project started at the St. Ignatius Chamber of Commerce meeting a few weeks ago. Community members were discussing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic when they decided the town needed something to boost morale.

“Once COVID hit, everything was canceled,” said JP Thomas, chamber member. “We started to think about a way for the community to get together while social distancing.”

The group decided a drive-in movie theater would be the perfect way for people to get together as a community and also remain distanced in the safety of their cars to help keep the virus from spreading. For those who have never seen a theater of this sort, popular in 1980s, the concept is pretty simple. People drive up to a large outdoor screen, park in front of it, hook up to a sound system and watch a movie from their cars. 

“We started making calls after the meeting,” Thomas said. “This wouldn’t have happened without the community.”

It was decided that the best place to put the theater was in the Good Old Days park parking lot on property owned by Old Town Community Development. Mission Valley Power drove to the location and sunk five 30-foot poles into the ground at no cost for the 33.5-foot-by-16-foot screen. “They donated the work and the poles, “ Thomas said.

Ten two-by-fours were attached to those poles in the shape of a rectangle with 20 sheets of plywood nailed to the surface. The wood for this part of the project was donated by the Lake County branch of Valley Bank, Mountain View Cenex, Western Building Center and Stuart’s Napa Auto Care. 

Folks at Daybreak Deli and Floral in St. Ignatius and Mission’s Lil’ Punk Fireworks donated the labor. The volunteers attached two-by-fours and the plywood to the poles. Rod’s Harvest Foods donated the use of a hydraulic lift so volunteers could reach the workspace. Once the wooden screen was in place, the volunteer crew painted it white to create a canvas for the films. Gambles Hardware store donated the paint. 

Valley Bank and Mountain View Cenex worked together to provide funding for the projector. “It took a lot of shopping to find one with enough power and light so that people could see it,” Thomas said. 

The project was finished on Aug. 23 after the projector was set up for a test run. “It worked beautifully,” said volunteer Janis Heffern. 

The public will be invited to watch the first film on Aug. 29 at dusk, which is around 9 p.m. Cars will be directed to park in front of the screen in rows.

The project is already getting a lot of attention from the public, which is both exciting and concerning at the same time. “We had 28,000 views on Facebook,” Heffern said. “We are glad people are interested in this, but we do have limited space. We would like to invite the community of St. Ignatius and the greater community in Lake County first. Admission will be by donation.”

Volunteers are still working out which family-friendly film to show first. Cornerstone Crossing in St. Ignatius is purchasing the showing rights for the film. The backside of the screen will be used to display advertising to help sustain the project and can be seen from U.S. Highway 93. 

Volunteers aren’t sure how this project will turn out. If it goes well, they would like to continue to show more films. “We would like to so this as much as possible,” Thomas said. “It also depends on how many people we get to volunteer. If anyone wants to help, they can contact the St. Ignatius Chamber through the Facebook page.” 

Volunteers are needed to direct traffic and help clean up. “This would be a great volunteer project for high school students needing to get in their volunteer hours for graduation,” he said.

To protect the community, project coordinators ask that people stay home if they feel sick. “They will have another opportunity to watch a movie at a later time, but if the COVID numbers go up, we won’t be able to do this,” Thomas said. “We also ask that people stay in their cars. If they need to get out, they should wear a mask.”

Alcohol is prohibited from the family-friendly event. Smoking is also not allowed due to the dry conditions around the theater screen. 

“This is in a dry field,” he said. “The St. Ignatius Fire Department volunteered to spray the area with water to keep down the dust and lower the fire hazard. The St. Ignatius Police Department will also be at the event to keep people safe.”

Chamber of Commerce members have watched in the past few months as the COVID-19 virus closed and canceled businesses and events in the community. “It was hard to watch the tourist season this year,” Heffern said. She owns the Daybreak Deli and decided to close in an effort to help keep the virus from spreading in the community. 

The pandemic has been difficult but the community is adapting. “We are trying to find ways to come together and stay safe at the same time,” she said. “It was really hard to cancel the Good Old Days this summer, but we knew that it was the right thing to do. People’s lives are not worth a social event, but we decided that this movie theater could be a way for people to be together, and I think it will work if people maintain social distancing. This could be a great thing for our community.”  


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