By Gene Axton - gaxton@timesleader.com

Dec. 17 screening of “The Force Awakens” at Stroud Mall to benefit Holiday Toys for Youth charity

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Darth Vader bends over to greet Benjamin Wilkins during one of the family’s trips to Disney World in Florida.
Photo courtesy of Christine Wilkins
Ben Wilkins and his mother Christine meet Chewbacca.
Photo courtesy of Christine Wilkins

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    STROUDSBURG — When Christine Wilkins’ son, Benjamin, asks her to visit Stroud Mall’s movie theater it’s usually so he can get an ICEE. On Sept. 12, Benjamin insisted she visit the theater so she could see the latest theatrical poster for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

    “He showed me the poster on the wall and it said schedule your private viewing of ‘Star Wars,’” Christine said. “I thought, oh my gosh how cool is that! It had Dec. 18 on it, and at the same time one of the managers walked out and said I could schedule a showing for the night before.”

    Benjamin will turn 6 on Dec. 17, so when Christine found out about the advance screening, the cool thing she saw on a poster suddenly became the cool thing she wanted to do for her son’s birthday. Christine, husband Tom and their son make up a Star Wars household; Christine recalled playing in her backyard as a child with Princess Leia buns in her hair and the family made a special trip to Toys “R” Us Times Square location for its special events during Force Friday merchandise launch.

    When Benjamin saw Star Wars for the first time, the film “blew his mind.” The soon-to-be 6 year-old said he’s excited for the new movie because the trailer makes the movies look new again. It doesn’t look like the Star Wars he knows. He’s most excited to watch new bad guy, Kylo Ren, on the big screen, but his favorite character is the galactic bounty hunter, Boba Fett.

    Christine is executive vice president and general manager of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Wilkins & Associates and has event planning experience. After her initial thought of holding a screening for Benjamin’s birthday, her focus then turned to holding the screening for philanthropic purposes.

    “We really like to give back to the community,” Christine said. “We’ve worked with Sheriff Todd A. Martin from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office a few times on donating around the holidays to his Holiday Toys for Youth charity,” Christine said. “I thought maybe we could support them as well.”

    “We created the charity 14 years ago,” Martin said. “It was something we noticed that was needed in the area. We have a lot of less fortunate children in our area and we noticed that the majority of functions that were held to raise money for the Christmas seasons were held by national organizations and a lot of the stuff that was collected here was going off to counties bordering Monroe. We believed we should taking care of our own community.”

    According to Sheriff Martin, the Wilkins’ have been consistent supporters of Holiday Toys for Youth. For their Dec. 17 “Star Wars” event, the Wilkins’ have sold 154 tickets. There will be a number of give-aways starting an hour before the film’s 7 p.m. start time. They’ve raised more than $3,000 for Holiday Toys for Youth with this event.

    What started as a birthday present for one child turned into a good deed to benefit needy children in Monroe county, but Christine is still hoping to make the day special for her young Padawan.

    “I want everyone to have a lot of fun and make a great night of it because we’re all donating around the holidays for Holiday Toys for Youth, but I really hope we can sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Ben too.”

    Reach Gene Axton at 570-991-6121 or on Twitter @TLArts

    By Gene Axton

    gaxton@timesleader.com

    Darth Vader bends over to greet Benjamin Wilkins during one of the family’s trips to Disney World in Florida.
    http://theweekender.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/web1_SWCharity1.jpgDarth Vader bends over to greet Benjamin Wilkins during one of the family’s trips to Disney World in Florida. Photo courtesy of Christine Wilkins

    Ben Wilkins and his mother Christine meet Chewbacca.
    http://theweekender.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/web1_SWCharity2.jpgBen Wilkins and his mother Christine meet Chewbacca. Photo courtesy of Christine Wilkins

    Reach Gene Axton at 570-991-6121 or on Twitter @TLArts