Outdoor movie night is a main attraction

Fire company raises funds, brings neighbors together


It's unlikely that a child would be allowed to ride his scooter down the aisle during a movie at the multiplex, at least not without an usher acting.

At movie nights at Hereford Volunteer Fire Company, however, the audience doesn't seem to mind. Everyone is up for an evening of food and games, topped off with a film shown on a screen in a parking lot behind the fire hall.

On a recent, humid Friday night, Doris Barnes thought the movie might be a good place to meet the neighbors. She and her family moved to Monkton in May from Cockeysville.

It was also a great excuse to get out of cooking dinner for her husband, Jim, and 17-year-old son Justin, she said.

"It's Friday night, and I'm trying to figure out what to eat and I said, `You know, why don't we see a movie?'" she said while waiting for the start of the Angelina Jolie-Brad Pitt movie Mr. & Mrs. Smith.

That July 14 show drew about 70 people. Children's movies seem to fare best. The Chronicles of Narnia drew nearly 350 people June 16. Two weeks later, a showing of the animated movie Madagascar attracted a similar crowd.

The northern Baltimore County fire company is in the midst of a third season of offering free movies. As in commercial theaters, it's the hot dogs and popcorn - and, in this case, crab soup - that bring in a lot of the money.

For less than $15, a family of four can each buy a hot dog and a soda for each member and split a bag of popcorn.

"We thought about raising the prices," said Jeff Squire, the company's fundraising chairman and a volunteer firefighter. "We keep it down because it's not just about the profit."

Movie night is one of several fundraisers that help the fire company meet its $385,000 annual budget, said Fire Chief Chuck Bollinger. Baltimore County contributes $80,000. The rest must come from hall rentals, birthday parties, pit beef barbecues and children's breakfasts.

This year, larger crowds at the movies have put the fire company ahead of last season, which netted $3,000 to help support the fire company, said Paulette Campanella, Squire's wife and chairwoman of the movie committee.

Movie night also gives the residents of the growing, but still largely rural, area a reason to come together, said Ken Bollinger, treasurer of the Hereford Optimists Club and father of Chuck Bollinger. The fire company holds a fall festival in October.

On July 2, the club held a Fourth of July parade that honored two Hereford High School graduates who were killed in Iraq, and organizers estimated that as many as 4,000 attended.

The Mr. & Mrs. Smith screening drew Jessalyn Babcock of White Hall, even though she had seen the movie before. She went to hang out with three of her friends.

The 13-year-old girls laid out a blanket and chatted.

A free movie at the fire hall beats an $8 ticket at the mall for the girls. "Basically, our allowance is gone if we go to the movies," Jessalyn said.

Gates opened at 7 p.m., but the movie didn't start until dusk. After people ate, they milled about the parking lot. A group of younger girls played Frisbee and paddleball toward the rear of the lot.

Bryan Picarello, 20, of Monkton took a break from the concession stand to chat with his parents. Picarello started as a volunteer firefighter when he was 16. Since then he has helped fight several fires and regularly assists at accident scenes.

As with other fire hall events, commercial patrons take up some of the financial slack. Jeffrey Picarello, Bryan's younger brother, used his video camera to shoot commercials for the sponsors to show before each movie.

Companies can reach potential customers at fire hall events, but the benefits go beyond that, said Janice Davis, a spokeswoman for the primary sponsor, Mercantile Bank & Trust of Baltimore. The bank contributed $1,000 to the movie event and sponsors other fundraisers.

"The far-out communities - the more further removed the more important the fire department is to the area," Davis said. "This is just a good way to do something for the volunteer fire company, gain a little recognition for the bank and support a fun event for the community."

As the sun set, Squire started a trivia game with the audience to pass the time before the movie started. Correct answers won gift certificates to sponsors.

Katie Ritter of Monkton watched from the concession stand.

"This is so small-town. I love it," she said. "It's really people from the community coming in and making it happen."

If you go:

Dinner, games, door prizes start at 7 p.m.

The movie begins at dark.

Dates: July 28 -- Eight Below; Aug. 11 -- Robots; Aug. 25 -- Fun with Dick & Jane; Sept. 8 -- Ice Age The Meltdown

Rain dates are scheduled for the following Friday.

Cost: Concessions sell hot dogs, hamburgers, popcorn and other food.

Free movie admission, donations accepted.

Bring your own lawn chair, but leave your cooler at home.

Where: 510 Monkton Road, behind the Hereford Volunteer Fire Company

For more information, visit www.herefordfire.org.

Directions from Towson: North on I-83 to Exit 27, right on to Mount Carmel Road, right on York Road, left on Monkton Road, left at the Fire Station at Firehouse Lane.

Entrance adjacent to the parking lot.

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