Making memories for the holiday

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By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer

Community comes together to support Movie Nite with Santa for borough children

NAUGATUCK — Some of Manny Pinho’s fondest childhood Christmas memories are when he and his brothers would go to the Salem Theatre downtown and watch a holiday movie. Afterward, Santa Claus would come onto the stage and give gifts to the children.

Pinho’s parents worked at the former Risdon Manufacturing Company. The company would rent out the theatre, which is now closed, for a holiday gathering for the children of employees.

“Some years, that was the best present that we would receive,” Pinho said.

Now, Pinho, a 60-year- old Naugatuck resident, is working with Connecticut Partnership for Children, and the Facebook group, Naugatuck Strong, to recreate the same experience for children and give them a memory to cherish.

Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus and Santa’s elves will spread holiday cheer to families in the borough at an outdoor Movie Nite with Santa on Dec. 12 from 4 to 8 p.m. organized by Pinho and the groups.

Event organizers plan to invite up to 125 children, who Connecticut Partnership for Children works with, ages 4 to 10. The event is by invitation only.

The movie will be a composite of different scenes from various Christmas movies and shown in the area of the stairs near Salem Elementary School on Meadow Street. Before the movie ends, children will be asked to stand. Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus will be at the top of the stairs and give out personalized gifts to the children, Pinho said.

Each child, who will be accompanied by one parent, will also get snacks to munch on during the movie. All the food will be donated by local vendors, Pinho said.

“We want to make this night a special event and we want to make these children feel on top of the world,” Pinho said.

Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus will also visit about 20 local families in their sleigh — a limousine — before the movie to hand out gifts.

“It made so much sense to me for children to have this fabulous experience,” said Jill Mahoney, executive director of Connecticut Partnership for Children.

Mahoney said she had hand delivered invitations to 64 families as of last week.

Organizers asked that those invited respond by Dec. 5. The rain date for the event is Dec. 13.

Pinho said everyone will follow COVID-19 protocols during the event.

“We picked the worst year and the best year because of what families are going through,” Pinho said.

The community at large is supporting the event. Local businesses have step up to sponsor it, including Ion Bank, Powerstation Events, Walmart, Gateway Financial Partners and American Forged Pub.

Pinho said event coordinators raised over $9,000 as of last week, including more than $2,500 through a GoFundMe page called “Movie night with Santa.”

Organizers are still accepting donations through the GoFundMe page. Any funds left after the event will be given to Connecticut Partnership for Children, Pinho said. The nonprofit organization supports low-income children and their families.

Pinho and Mahoney both hope this event will be the first of many to come.

“We are hoping that this will make a lasting memory,” Mahoney said.

Pinho said the holiday movie night meant a lot to him when he was a child. He hopes the event will have the same impact on children today.

“Memories create dreams and dreams keep us going,” Pinho said. “It’s OK to dream because eventually a dream becomes a memory.”