Audiences ride “The Polar Express”


Bells of believers jingled joyfully at The Strand Theater in Zelienople during the Glade Run Foundation’s sixth annual holiday event featuring the film “The Polar Express.”

Two showings Dec. 5 brought in about 375 people. Those who attended the free film were asked to bring gifts for Glade Run youths.

“Attendees generously donated nearly $1,600 worth of toys and related items to benefit the children served by Glade Run,” said Cheryl Martin, the foundation’s development and communications coordinator, who called the event “a nice kickoff to our holiday drive.”

The event is designed to brighten the attendees’ holiday season, along with helping provide Glade Run youths with gifts.

“What’s nice about this is it’s something that promotes a positive family experience,” Martin said.

Glade Run supporters of all ages attended.

“We had families. We had Grandma and the grandkids,” Martin said.

Youths on the autism spectrum attended, along with typical children.

Volunteers, including staff members who volunteered their time for the event, helped out.

Even though he is unimaginably busy this time of year, Santa Claus found time to come to The Strand twice so he could visit with children at each showing.

“We had a nice visit with Santa Claus, who was happy to take pictures,” Martin said.

The adults get a kick out of seeing Santa interact with their children, she said.

“You get all caught up in their excitement,” she said.

To help make the movie experience come to life, children received hot chocolate and bells they could jingle. In the classic book and movie, the main character chooses a bell from Santa’s sleigh as his special Christmas present.

The event has become a regular addition to the community calendar for the holiday season.

“We hope that folks will join us next year,” Martin said. “I get calls for this in July. People ask me if we’re doing it again.”

Among the regulars are Melissa Stiteler of Bellevue and her family: husband Scott and their children, Jeanelle, 9; Hope, 7; Sam, 5; and newcomer Miles, 3 months.

Her family, her parents and her sister’s family came together.

“This is like our fourth year,” Melissa said.  “We’ve kind of made it a family tradition.”

In the past, Melissa volunteered for Glade Run through Discovery Christian Church in Cranberry, so she was familiar with its mission, and she thought the event would be a good way to teach her children that the Christmas season is a time of giving, as well as receiving.

“I just love the idea of teaching my kids to give back,” she said.

The family went shopping so the children could pick out gifts for Glade Run youths. They chose soft Nerf sports equipment.

Her children have a lot of fun at The Strand, Melissa said.

“Going to the theater is a big deal for my kids because we don’t go to the theater very often,” she said. “It’s a great holiday atmosphere.”

Free popcorn and cookies add to the fun.

“It’s great for my kids,” Melissa said.

Jeanelle said she enjoyed seeing the movie.

“I liked the train and when they meet Santa and all the elves come,” she said.

Hope said she also had a good time.

“I liked that we went with our cousins, and we got hot chocolate and cookies and popcorn,” she said. “They were yummy.”

Both girls said it is important to help the children at Glade Run.

As Jeanelle put it, “It’s good to give presents to people that don’t have them.”


About the Author

Madelyn Dinnerstein

Madelyn Dinnerstein is a communications professional who previously worked for Trib Total Media, where she last was a weeklies editor whose job included being the primary editor for the North Journal and McKnight Journal newspapers. An enthusiastic juggler, she has volunteered as a juggling instructor for youths in Glade Run Lutheran Services’ residential treatment facility since 2001. Recently, she has been helping with public relations for Glade Run on a volunteer basis, as well.

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