TORONTO — For Jaime and Alexandra Eckler, lemonade is more than just a refreshing summer treat. It is a way to support Toronto’s homeless youth.
The Eckler sisters, eight and five years old respectively, held their first lemonade stand four years ago, when they were barely toddlers. Their mother, Sharon Zohar, was inspired by the story of Amanda Belzowski, a 14-year-old girl who has raised more than $150,000 for the Heart and Stroke Foundation since holding her first lemonade stand as a two-year-old.
Zohar took the young sisters to Belzowski’s annual lemonade stand, and Jaime immediately told her mother that she wanted to raise money the same way. But for the Eckler girls, it was important that the money go toward helping the homeless, particularly homeless youth.
“I like doing my lemonade stand because I like raising money for the homeless youth, and because I feel bad that they don’t have any homes,” said Jaime. Over the last three years, the Eckler sisters have raised about $8,000 to support the homeless, first for the charity Raising the Roof and, starting last year, for Toronto youth homeless shelter and support organization Eva’s Initiatives.
This year, the goal is to raise another $8,000 at their upcoming lemonade stand event on June 23. The theme for this year’s event is a carnival, and people who come out will be able to enjoy cotton candy, face painting, balloon artists, prize giveaways and, of course, lemonade.
Over the years, Jaime and Alexandra’s Lemonade Stand has grown from a modest operation at the edge of their driveway to an all-out themed event taking place in a public park. The lemonade stand has garnered the support of sponsors, including Aroma Espresso Bar, the Jane Goodall Institute, Shoppers Drug Mart and Menchie’s. This year, the Eckler sisters will also be joined by their lemonade stand inspiration, Belzowski.
Though Jaime and Alexandra are still very young, Zohar said they demonstrate a strong interest and dedication to the cause of homelessness. “They just are aware, that’s the bottom line. They look outside of themselves,” she said.
She explained that since first seeing a homeless person in downtown Toronto several years ago, the girls insist on offering food or simply stopping to “extend a hand and say hello” to any homeless person they see.
As Jaime and Alexandra grow up, they’ve been able to have more involvement and to add their own spin to their lemonade stand. “Every year, I really want them to grow more with it,” said Zohar, explaining that Jaime now takes the responsibility of writing letters inviting city officials, including Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, to attend the event.
Alexandra, who has a special fondness for animals, has made the decision to raise additional funds at the event to go towards saving orphaned chimpanzees through Jane Goodall’s chimpanzee protection program.
“This is very meaningful for them,” said Zohar of the lemonade-stand initiative. She added that it’s important to her that the charity work continues to resonate with her daughters.
Zohar asks the girls each year in earnest if they want to continue with the lemonade stand, in an effort to ensure that it is truly something that they find important. Each year, she said, the answer is the same, “they scream, ‘Absolutely!’”
Jaime and Alexandra’s Fourth Annual Lemonade Stand will take place at Woburn Park in Toronto on June 23 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, contact Sharon Zohar at email@example.com.