By Megan Dooley
As the 10th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center inches closer, an ambitious group of River Forest residents are hard at work planning this year's charity LemonAid stand, a fundraiser born of a desire to do some good in the face of unspeakable tragedy.
The charitable event will be held from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 11 on the 700 block of Bonnie Brae.
The idea was established in 2002, when neighbors along the block decided to come together to hold an event to benefit the community and honor the memory of lives lost on 9/11.
That first year, the group pledged the profits from their little lemonade stand to Hephzibah Children's Association in Oak Park. In total, they raised about $400.
In the ensuing years, the Oak Park-River Forest Food Pantry, the Children's Clinic in Oak Park, and Amity School Children's Aid in River Forest were among the organizations that benefited from the stand's sales. As the years passed, the dollar amounts coming in steadily crept up. Last year, the Bonnie Brae neighbors raised more than $11,000 for the River Forest organization Opportunity Knocks, which targets adults with developmental disabilities.
Fenwick High School senior Luke Olson has been working on the LemonAid stand since its first year, way back when he was 8 years old. This year, he's chairperson for the event, which he said is a real group effort.
"Everybody else on the block plays a big role," Olson said. That role could include donating a table for the stand itself, working the counter, or even baking.
"We have lemonade, we have desserts, cookies, brownies, rice crispy treats and such," Olson said. But it's not really a bake sale. "It's like [give] a donation and take anything you want. We just say, 'Be as generous as you can and help yourself.'"
This year, the proceeds will go to Thrive Counseling Center, the nonprofit counseling and education organization that provides social services and mental health care to the Oak Park and River Forest community and beyond. With roughly $36,000 raised over the course of nine years, the LemonAid volunteers are hoping to keep the higher earning streak alive this year.
Patty Henek, who was also one of the initial event organizers and still participates, said the fundraiser really brings out the community's generosity. It's not uncommon for someone to hand over a large check to spike the total amount raised.
For the upcoming event, they've also got someone donating the liquid goods.
"Whole Foods Market in River Forest is donating the lemonade this year," Henek said. And the health food superstore will be on hand to help draw a crowd the day of the event as well.
"They are putting up a stand ... on a neighboring lawn," Olson said, where they'll be handing out goodies to event patrons. "It's greatly appreciated. This is the first year that anybody's offered to give us lemonade."
There will also be live musical lawn entertainment, with performers Kevin Reid and Phil Sheaff, from My Music Lessons music school in Oak Park, and Angie Wendt and Becca Kaufman from the Becca Kaufman Orchestra.
This year also happens to be the first year the LemonAid stand will be held on the street that's now named after it. At an Aug. 15 meeting of the River Forest Board of Trustees, they officially designated the 700 block of Bonnie Brae as "LemonAid Place."
"After Sept. 11, this block tried to come together and decide how they could do something to help," said Village President John Rigas at the meeting, adding that the effort had raised more than $30,000 over the years. Rigas then presented a street sign with the new name, which he said will be distributed to the event organizers on the day of the LemonAid stand this year.
"It's a huge honor, really, to have an entire block stand out in this community of ours," Olson said. "It's just amazing."