Thomas Althoff is still on the job. As general manager of Westlake Cinema, Althoff is popping corn and filling bags with movie theater popcorn even though the movie theater remains closed to the public. Despite the fact that the seats are empty, the popcorn continues to sell, which is benefiting Lake Christian Ministries.

May is Westlake Cinema’s 15th anniversary. The theater had planned to celebrate with special offers throughout the month, but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“We’re doing this for the community to show that we are still here for the community and our customers who have supported us for 15 years,” Althoff said.

Althoff is referring to the popcorn fundraiser Westlake Cinema is doing for Lake Christian Ministries. For a $15 donation, customers can receive a 5-gallon bag of fresh popcorn. Customers can call the theater by Thursday at 5 p.m. to place their order and make the $15 donation. Then they can pick up their bag of popcorn between 4 and 6 p.m. on Friday. Donors who call when they arrive at the theater can have their popcorn left on a table outside the front door for contactless pickup.

“We had 32 orders the first week,” Althoff said. “We had kind of set the cut off at 30 bags, but decided to go a little bit over. For the month of May we are going to do 30 bags or maybe more a week, depending on how many orders we get. I estimated that would be somewhere above $1,500 and below $2,000 to Lake Christian Ministries.”

The entire $15 per bag donation is going to the Moneta nonprofit. “Supporting organizations like Lake Christian Ministries is more important now than ever,” said Lee Willard, vice president of corporate holdings at The Willard Companies, which owns and operates Westlake Cinema. “If this program can help just one family have a good meal, then it is a program worth doing.”

According to Jane Winters, LCM executive director, the number of people who came to the nonprofit for help in March doubled. That means Westlake Cinema’s fundraiser is needed now more than ever.

“We wanted to pay it forward since the community has kept us going for 15 years,” Althoff added.

The best time to place popcorn orders is Monday through Thursday from noon to 5 p.m. by calling 721-6314. Callers are urged to leave a message if no one answers.

As a bonus each week, one donor will be randomly selected to win two movie passes, which will be good through Dec. 31, 2021.

This is normally the time when the theater starts ramping up for the summer movies. It’s also when college students come home to provide the summer workforce for the theater. For now, the summer staff has not been added.

“We’re a business that relies on groups,” Althoff said. “We don’t expect to be part of that first wave so we’re probably looking at mid-June [to reopen].

Small businesses are suffering everywhere, especially in places like the lake where businesses rely on tourists for a large part of their revenue. A Facebook group called We Shop Local SML Virtually has been created to help support local businesses. Anyone interested in purchasing gift cards or T-shirts to help the theater can visit www.westlakecinema.com.

Nonperishable food items can be donated to LCM in front of Smith Mountain Building Supply from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on May 30. The food drop-off will continue to be held the last Saturday of each month through July.

In addition, donors can support LCM through its pantry pickup program called A Simple Gesture. More information is available at www.asimplegesturesml.org to learn more about their pantry pickup program.