For many moviegoers, a trip to the theater is more than just viewing the newest film--which they could see on-demand in the comfort of their home a short time later.

It’s about an experience that includes the coming attractions, a night out with the kids, or freshly-made, movie theater-style popcorn. Recent circumstances have prevented people from being able to enjoy those aspects of a trip to the big screen, and “Saturday Night at the Movies” has moved to local couches.

However, Peter Edelmann, owner of Essex Cinemas, had an idea in the middle of the night last Sunday to help others in this time of need--while also being able to see his loyal customers and allow them to snag some of those beloved, blossomed kernels of corn.

“I woke up and decided that we have to do something to provide a smile and to do something that would be beneficial with the community,” he said.

On Saturday, Edelmann fired up the popping machines and invited the public to come grab a bag, buttered or unbuttered. He didn’t charge money for the savory snacks, but he did give people the chance to donate money to the Vermont Foodbank.

“We've been in line for, about, 30 minutes, but I think it's totally worth it,” said Kylie Halpin, who has been visiting Essex Cinemas since she was a kid growing up in the town. “It's such a good cause, and it makes me feel good seeing how many people want to come out and support the foodbank.”

Suggested contributions were $5 per bag, but Edelmann says those who swung by were dropping in whatever they could--be that a few dollars, $10, or more to help fellow Vermonters.

The total amount raised will not be determined for another three days. That’s because the drive-thru system prevented cinema staff--all of whom were volunteering their time--from touching the cash and check donations right away.

After driving by and taking their bag-o-corn near the main entrance, cars (and at least two people going through on their bicycles) would pull ahead to the donation bin and directly drop their money in. Edelmann said that the bin was going to later be directly emptied into a safe where the money would sit for at least 72 hours--allowing any potential coronavirus germs to die before it was handled again.

Additional safety measures were implemented after Edelmann was given the green light by the Vermont Department of Health under the agreement that he would do so. Those included that all staff would wear gloves and face masks, workers making the popcorn maintain a distance of 8 feet from one another, and that disinfectant be used as much as possible without compromising the popcorn.

The event was scheduled to go from 12-3 p.m., but Edelmann said that cars started lining up as early as 11:30 a.m. The initial batch his crew had made ran out within a half hour, and it then was a rush to keep up with the demand. He estimated that about 500 cars drove through the cinema lot--most of the day seeing a waiting line that snaked around the Essex Experience. With that, he thinks the bin held anywhere from $2,500 to $3,000 by the end of the day.

“They came from all over. They came from Jericho, from Westford, from St. Albans, from Shelburne, from Burlington, and, of course, from Essex,” he said. “Very few people turned around when they saw the line; they knew it was going to be an hour, and they still stood in line and waited.

“We engaged with everybody, and 99 percent said, ‘Thank you,’ and they were smiling,” Edelmann added. “And we thank them for coming--for waiting in line and waiting in their cars for an hour. Jokingly, I would say, ‘Hey, if a month ago we had asked you: Would you wait an hour for a bag of popcorn? Everyone said: ‘No!’ I said, ‘Well you’re here for the popcorn.’ And some people say, ‘Well, of course we love your popcorn, but we're really here for the community.’”

Edelmann is hoping to hold similar events in the near future.

“It was just an amazing community response,” he said. “It was overwhelming. We were not prepared for the amount of response that we got. If we are allowed to do it again, which I hope we are, we'll start a lot earlier with preparing a lot more popcorn so it'll run quicker. But it worked out really well--amazingly well.”

Moreso, Edelmann is hoping to see Saturday’s visitors be able to soon sit back in one of the 400 seats of the theater and enjoy the show--along with some friends, family, and popcorn.

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