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It’s LemonAid’s 19th year of raising money for local charities. But this year the event, hosted annually by the 700 block of Bonnie Brae in River Forest, will be different. COVID-19 is preventing the “kids helping kids” Sept. 11 fundraiser from holding its in-person block-party celebration, which typically draws a huge crowd.

This year’s event cochairs, OPRF High School students Sam Keidan, a senior, and Kate Sturgeon, a sophomore, said planning the 2020 LemonAid fundraiser was different from what they thought it would be. 

“It’s been a lot of improv this year,” said Keidan. “A lot of curveballs thrown at us.”

Sturgeon said it was definitely not what she was expecting. In April, she said, the group was wondering if having an event at all was even a possibility.

They decided to hold a virtual event with the possibility of a drive-through donation event on Sept. 11. But a large gathering as seen in the other years since the 2001 terrorist attack launched this impromptu fundraiser isn’t possible because of the pandemic.

COVID-19 not only changed plans for how this year’s event will be held, but determined what charity the block selected as a recipient of fundraising. This year, all funds raised will go to the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation, which has a COVID-related Rapid Response and Recovery Fund.

According to LemonAid organizer Chris Hauri, the fund supports a lot of the organizations that have benefited from LemonAid in the past, “and they know where the money needs to go better than we do.”

All donations will be matched by Oak Park residents and philanthropists Ken and Patty Hunt, who pledged $250,000 in a matching challenge to support the COVID relief fund.

Since there won’t be an actual block party event this year, the “center of the donation,” said Hauri, is this year’s special souvenir yard sign. Anyone who donates at least $25 will receive a yard sign, which will be placed in the donor’s yard by a team of families from the 700 block of Bonnie Brae.

Yard signs aren’t new to LemonAid; the yellow signs have been a visual reminder of the event for at least 10 years, said Hauri. Unlike other years when the signs are collected after the event, though, this year the recipients can keep them.

As for swag? Nothing says 2020 better than a face mask, and this year yellow LemonAid masks can be purchased. Available in children’s and adult sizes, they can be ordered at https://www.9-11lemonaid.com/merchandise.

Both Sturgeon and Keidan said working on this year’s event gave them a new appreciation for how much goes into the annual fundraiser.

“I think it’s amazing to see how much works goes into it,” said Sturgeon. “As a kid, you show up and maybe run the popcorn machine.” But actually planning and organizing gave her an appreciation for the work it takes, but also the generosity of the community.

Keidan said, “We’re doing all the planning, and it’s a lot harder but feels more rewarding to know there are this many helpful people willing to give their time and effort to a charity.”

For more information on this year’s fundraiser, visit https://www.9-11lemonaid.com/.

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