UNION, NJ — Before the students at Union’s Franklin Elementary School begin to stream toward their usual lunch hangouts at 11:30 a.m., a handful of industrious fourth-graders set up shop in the kitchen and cafeteria space.
They pour lemonade into dozens of cups, man the cash box and prepare for a wave of students who will be buying the lemonade, at 50 cents a pop. They are one of many groups from around the country to raise money for Alex’s Lemonade Stand, a charity which remembers an 8-year-old cancer patient.
In the halls of Franklin Elementary School, it’s a story with which everyone is familiar, said school counselor Erin Jackson.
“The fourth-grade students went around to every single class in the school — kindergarten, first grade, up to fourth grade — and they read a little piece about the story, how the lemonade stand came to life,” said Jackson, who first heard about Alex’s Lemonade Stand on the radio last year. “And our kids are not all well-off. But the fact that they’re giving back is so nice. It’s like they’re going into the piggy bank to get change and contribute.”
The charity’s founder, Alex, was diagnosed with a childhood cancer before her first birthday. But while fighting the disease throughout the remainder of her life, Alex and her family held regular lemonade stands in their front yard to fundraise for childhood cancer research, raising more than $1 million in the process.
Holding the sale for Alex’s Lemonade Stand around Thanksgiving “makes it special because if we help the kids feel better, then they can go back with their families and celebrate,” said student Brenda Cebien.
“This is a good time of year, before Thanksgiving,” said Jackson, who originally wanted to run the lemonade stand in October, nationally known as Childhood Cancer Awareness month. “It’s all about giving back, being appreciative for things that you have, and really this year it’s taken off more than it did last year, and the kids are really thrilled with where it’s going.”
Students at Franklin Elementary School, through their collaborative efforts, have raised more than $1,000 during the past two years, in their newest annual tradition.
“We did this fundraiser last year and we were really, really successful. We raised $600 for the charity, so I wanted to do it again this year, and it’s taken off,” said Jackson, adding that they’ve raised $500 through Friday, Nov. 20, with two days of selling lemonade left before the Thanksgiving break. “The kids have really been helping. I have about 12 of the fourth-graders in the leadership program, so they’ve been organizing it and helping to put the word out, and they help with the sale every single day. They’re really involved.”
Backed by enthusiasm from first-year principal Latee Walton-McCleod, who immediately bought into the idea and wanted to advertise it to Franklin Elementary School parents, the students have had a great time helping out their fellow children and learning Alex’s story, said Jackson.
A lot of the kids didn’t understand the message last year, she added, since they put the logistics together at the “last minute.” But this year, there are no doubts about what they’re doing.
“The best thing is that we get to help kids who are sick to help cure them,” said student Alisha James, “and we have a lot of fun selling it.”