Jim Jenkins

When life gave Houston lemons, Triangle kids made lemonade

A child holds a sign while watching for potential customers. Her family donated all proceeds from the stand to the American Red Cross for Hurricane Katrina victims.
A child holds a sign while watching for potential customers. Her family donated all proceeds from the stand to the American Red Cross for Hurricane Katrina victims. Juli Leonard

Some of the stands looked like miniature Starbucks shops, with cash boxes and a variety of treats and a Mom or Dad standing by with refills on juice, soft drinks and sometimes even coffee. Yes, competition even finds its way into the summertime lemonade stand business.

But what made this past weekend different was that almost all the stands, and there were lots of them in Raleigh and Cary, some only a block or so apart, were donating their proceeds to the victims of Hurricane Harvey’s flooding. Some of the signs said, “Help,” others said, “Houston,” still others offered a more wordy explanation.

Now here then was a profound “teachable moment.”

The 24-hour news cycle is mostly boring, but in times of a natural disaster, it’s anything but. Over several days, the misery in Houston and the horrible tragedy of deaths had made itself known to virtually all through websites and television. And that included kids doing the usual Saturday channel-surfing for cartoons or movies.

In disasters such as this one – North Carolina has suffered with its own hurricanes – almost all in a family are touched. And in this case, the children who were watching understood when they saw families, including kids their age, displaced by floodwaters. They saw the minivans like theirs covered in water. They saw clothes like theirs floating. They saw toys like theirs washed away and crying children their ages standing in huge gymnasiums with a few precious possessions in their arms or on the floor around them, a small space allotted to their families.

All those pictures, of people holding their small children and wading through the ponds that used to be their front yards. Kids here didn’t get it, mostly, for a while. But then, perhaps struck by the obvious suffering of someone just like them, they did get it. And they wanted to do something.

I don’t know whether it was a certain image that moved precious, 6-year-old Valery, a sweet girl from Cary I’m most happy to know, but she sat at a card table in her front yard on a hot Labor Day afternoon with a sign for victims taped in front, two pitchers of lemonade and an assortment of homemade cookies. She had a little cup for her proceeds.

Val is not a hard-sell artist, you might say, but her sweet smile should have been a big draw for potential customers. The competition was pretty fierce only a couple of blocks away, where some kids had pooled their labor forces and had kids out by the street waving, others holding signs, others unpacking store-bought cookies and arranging red and blue cups to be at the ready for customers.

Val had cookies she’d helped pack, three for $1.25, though she worried about one chocolate chip version in the shape of a man. “His head is coming off,” she said, with a frown. I told her if the cause was worthy, which it was, people wouldn’t care – and let’s face it, when they ate the cookie, the head would be the first to go anyway.

She declined when asked if she wanted to go inside, it being hot and all. “I want to help people,” she said. And there she sat in the sun, at the card table, waiting and waiting and waiting.

The cup wasn’t full by day’s end, but she’d made 10 or 12 bucks, all of which would surely go to flood victims. Not much, perhaps, when compared to the billions of dollars Congress will invest, but all of Valery’s efforts came from the heart, as did the money raised all over her neighborhood and in all the neighborhoods of all the cities and towns where children had learned to count their own blessings and decided to do something for others.

For many it may be the first time they did something like this, the first recognition of the need to help those less fortunate in any circumstance, and not just in times of disaster. They’ll not again pass a homeless person on the street or see a hungry child or a person struggling to get around on crutches without feeling, in addition to sympathy, the need – even the responsibility – to help, to do something. At least, that’s the hope of those who are trying to raise them with a sensitivity, a feeling for their fellow travelers on the third rock from the Sun. I’m glad to be on the journey with a little girl with a big heart.

Deputy editorial page editor Jim Jenkins can be reached at 919-829-4513 or at jjenkins@newsobserver.com

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