By Devin Rose
River Forester Patty Henek was very busy helping people in need in 2012.
Henek and her neighbors in the 700 block of Bonnie Brae were able to raise $19,000 in September during their 10th annual LemonAid fundraiser, which they started to commemorate the 9/11 attacks. That amount surpassed the $16,000 they raised the previous year.
Not your average lemonade stand.
Henek has been an organizer of LemonAid since 2002, when the block was amazed by the $400 they raised that year. Neighbors, she recalled, wanted to turn the day into something positive for the community and a lemonade stand was a good way for the kids on the block to get involved because it's something they were all familiar with. The kids look forward to it now because they've grown up with it for the past decade.
This year, Henek's son, Matt, a junior at Oak Park and River Forest High School, took over as one of the event co-chairs. He was in kindergarten on Sept. 11, 2001.
The block voted to donate this year's proceeds to Sarah's Inn, an agency focused on helping victims of domestic violence. Each year's total is given to a local charity that benefits children.
But Henek wasn't done. She also served as the coordinator of this year's Holiday Food and Gift Basket program, which asks for sponsors to shop for and wrap gifts on participants' wish lists. Individuals and families below a certain income level are the beneficiaries of the community's generosity. The program also provides Jewel gift cards to households, who have been referred by social workers and other community agencies before Thanksgiving.
Henek said people seem to be happy to help once she and other organizers put the word out that the need is there. But she said finding enough sponsors for hundreds of households is tricky. As the need has grown for holiday gifts in recent years, Henek said organizers do more work to put their message out and don't assume they'll meet the need by relying on the previous year's contributors.
The program served 909 households this year, which represents just under 2,200 people.