4,000 turn out for Toyota movie night

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

4,000 turn out for Toyota movie nightIn the wake of earthquakes that shook nerves as well as structures, Toyota of Ridgecrest owners Fred and Janelle Etoch wanted to do something to raise the morale of the residents.

After only a day to brainstorm and prepare, the resulting contributions and attendance of a dinner and movie night at Freedom Park blew away their wildest aspirations.

The Etochs and their daughter, Blair, began discussing on Monday what they could do to help the community. “We were all just asking each other, ‘What do we do? Do we hand out gift cards? Do we host something at the theater?’ At that time we had no idea the devastation at Ridgecrest Cinemas.”

A concept of bringing some barbecues to the splash pad to cook up dinner for the community started to form. “At that point, we were not even thinking of scale.”

The couple approached their good friends, Ridgecrest Police Chief Jed McLaughlin and his wife Katherine, to help determine the need.

“He said, ‘Oh my gosh! That would be wonderful!’ and our idea just snowballed from there.”

Katherine partnered up with the Etoch family, as well as their staff and extended family at Toyota, to figure out how to pull off a large scale event for the very next day.

Katherine hit up Assemblyman Vince Fong’s district director, Lauren Skidmore, who happened to be at City Hall that day. She helped coordinate a sponsorship of the dinner through Fong’s office, as well as those of Rep. Kevin McCarthy and State Sen. Shannon Grove.

With that sponsorship, Salty’s Barbecue in Bakersfield ended up joining other local vendors to provide dinner, drinks and snacks.

“We just told Jed to let us know what they needed, and we would foot the bill,” said Fred. “We really were not worried about the money — our biggest constraint was time.”

But things began to fall into place, with other volunteers and organizations asking to team up with them. RCA Church contacted the family to see if they could show up and hand out diapers to families in need. Toyota of Ridgecrest also paid for a license to play a movie at Freedom Park.

“We thought a movie in the park — out on the grass, away from buildings — would be perfect after what everyone has been through,” said Fred.

They were able to pull it of on July 9 — and an estimated 3,000-4,000 showed up.

“We didn’t realize at the time what the turnout would be. It wasn’t until we shared our first post, and we saw it go viral, that we had any idea so many people would show up. It was really a heck of a turnout from what we first started planning.”

The team of volunteers went back to the store multiple times to make sure guests didn’t run out of food. Besides the refreshments, people seemed to genuinely appreciate the fellowship.

“For myself, I wanted to be around people,” said Janelle. “It was a comforting feeling — being around so many people with that same need. Then once everyone came together it was like, ‘alright — we are going to be okay.’”

The Etoch family have partnered before with City Hall for community events — including the popular Trunk or Treat at Halloween. But Fred noted that his reason for wanting to give back to the community started much earlier.

Nine years ago, their teenage son, Evan, lost his life in an accident. That death stunned the community, and helped kick off a foundation that has since poured tens of thousands of dollars into community ventures.

“The community did so much for us when we needed them nine years ago. Ever since then we have tried to give back in any direction we can,” said Fred.

“Jed and I were talking about the response [following the earthquake] in our community. There are not a lot of places that have any idea how Ridgecrest comes together in any crisis. I think that we are somewhat unique in that way.”

“We are brainstorming again as we speak,” said Janelle. “We are right back to talking about what else we can do.”

“We want to do more,” said Fred. “There will definitely be something else for our community in the near future.”

Pictured: Jed and Katherine McLaughlin, Janelle and Fred Etoch - Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2019-07-11