UNION, NJ - Even amidst a pandemic, the Township of Union and its residents are finding safe ways to come together as a community.
Residents were treated to a drive-in movie of Disney’s 2019 “The Lion King” inside Biertuemphel Park during the evening of July, 4, Independence Day. Saturday night saw moviegoers following social distancing and safety criterion put in place as precautions due to the COVID-19 virus.
"I'm excited that we were able to bring the drive-in as a fun option for our residents as they experience the movie while adhering to social-distancing guidelines from the comfort of their cars," said Union Mayor Michele Delisfort, speaking ahead of the holiday weekend.
"This will be a unique experience for our younger generation that have never been to a drive-in movie before. The Township is adapting to the current times and will keep going."
The drive-in event comes during the Independence Day holiday, with the Union community accustomed to a tradition of larger outdoor celebrations— including fireworks and live music hosted by the township in the pre-pandemic world.
“The 4th of July has always been a big holiday with a big band and fireworks, it felt empty without something,” said Deputy Mayor Joseph Florio. “We came up with an idea, let’s do three films in three nights.”
Florio was in attendance Friday night and greeted Union residents at a safe social distance as they entered the parking lot behind Lincoln Technical Institute.
“We try to run a lot of programs and involve the community and bring people together,” said Florio. “Bringing people together is the best thing you can do, especially at a time like this.”
The holiday weekend originally planned to show three movies starting on Friday, July 3, Saturday July 4 and Sunday July 5. Stormy weather washed out Friday’s showing of the comedy “Knives Out” which is now rescheduled to be shown at Monday, July 6, at 8:30 p.m. at Biertuemphel Park.
All movies, including Friday’s postponed “Knives Out”, Saturday’s “The Lion King” and Sunday’s showing of “Space Jam” were sold out ahead of the holiday weekend with each drive-in night set to host 75 cars. The township used Boxcar to the reserve spots inside the parking lot made town drive-in movie theater.
One of the major organizers of the event was Superintendent of Recreation Robert Copwer who oversaw the operations of the drive-in on both Friday and Saturday evenings.
Cowper described the drive-in experience as a safe way for families to have something to look forward to during this year’s Independence Day weekend.
For Union resident Adrian Baker, the opportunity to enjoy a movie with her son was a welcome distraction, after her mother Gloria Walters, also a resident, recently passed away from the COVID-19 virus. “I lost my mom,” said Baker. “Anything to give us some normality is good.”
Accompanying his mom and enjoying the ambiance of a drive-in experience before “Knives Out” was postponed Friday was Baker’s son Jeffrey Fore, an incoming senior at Union High School.
Although quarantined since early March when schools transitioned to at-home learning, Fore has used the time at home to channel his creative side and immerse himself in special art-animation project of his own undertaking with a “medieval” theme, according to the young animator and cinema fan.
Fore plans on releasing his first episode via YouTube this August, but acknowledges there’s still plenty of work to be done.
On Saturday, July, 4, moviegoers were greeted by the booming beats of Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk as the large inflatable screen came to life and the sun set on residents tuned into 93.3 FM where audiences could tune into the movie’s audio.
Among the sold-out drive-in crowd Saturday was the Po family. Jessica and Bentley Po brought their two sons Julian, 9, and Mason, 7, to enjoy an outdoor viewing of “The Lion King.”
The boys who attend Connecticut Farms Elementary School were all smiles when they pulled up to their front row spots — enjoying French fries and grilled cheese sandwiches from the local Huck Finn Diner, located on Morris Avenue in Union.
The local eats the Po family enjoyed was no coincidence but a result of the family’s commitment to support Union businesses during the pandemic.
"We support local," said Jessica Po. “We’re making sure we reinvest back into the town.”