“I know!” Zach exclaimed. “We can do a lemonade stand!”
The kids and I were talking about Frank, a homeless man trying to get into stable housing so he can see his kids more. A friend of mine works with the homeless, and her organization has been trying to help a lot of people who, like Frank, need assistance setting up an apartment. Benjamin had already decided to give his charity savings, an effort Zach would have joined in, had he not recently sent it all off to help some panda bears. Now we were trying to figure out how else to help. Lemonade stand is the go-to solution.
So, Saturday morning, I helped them bake cookies and my husband helped them squeeze lemonade. They made posters and chose artwork to sell off. By ten past nine, we were stationed on the corner of our yard, watching the cars whiz by without stopping. The boys got discouraged fast and turned to their favorite occupation – fighting. After half an hour, I declared that they needed to take shifts, because no one wants to buy lemonade from two kids who won’t stop screaming at each other.
“Tell them why you’re selling the lemonade,” I suggested to Benjamin as a couple on their morning walk crossed over to the stand.
“There’s this man named Frank and he’s homeless and he has to sleep on the bus and we’re trying to help him,” Ben gushed.
“Well, I think that’s really important,” the man said. “I’ll take one cookie, but I’m going to give you five dollars for Frank.”
They sold to all the neighbors who went by and also to their piano teacher, who came in the middle to do their lessons. But a lemonade stand is a long, hard row to hoe, what with all those people wearing exercise clothes and no wallets. Also the dude who kept repeating “No English” as Benjamin told him “It’s one dollar for lemonade or a cookie and it goes to help Frank who sleeps on the bus because he’s afraid to be on the street.”
At 10:00, Zach came out for a shift while Lilah innocently performed a striptease on the front lawn, taking breaks to dance around the pole that holds up the street sign. Zach started to accost a blond woman in exercise shorts. “She already went by. She told your brother she doesn’t have any money on her,” I explained.
Slowly, slowly the funds built up, what with the biker who had 75 cents on her (she got a discount) and the neighbor who bought a cup of lemonade for Zach and Lilah, plus one of Lilah’s piece of art, which she then gave back to the artist as a gift. On the rare moments both boys were in the house, Lilah took over, shirt rolled halfway off her body, standing on the corner waving Ben’s “HELP FRANK” sign over her head. When someone walked up, she explained, “There’s this man Frank, and he sleeps on the bus during the night and he walks around the streets during the day and we’re trying to help him.”
Now, I know that there’s something wrong with the idea of using a person we don’t even know in this way to teach our kids to help others. I get that it could be condescending and fetishizing or somesuch. I understand that it could be construed to rob the very person the kids are helping of his dignity. White suburban kids helping poor guy to get an apartment. I see all the postcolonial, racially complicated, difficult aspects of this. I understand that the money they were raising is a pittance against the real need out there, that they weren’t making a real sacrifice, and that they were being made to feel very good about themselves for just spending a few hours selling lemonade. I even have the metawhatever to recognize that me thinking my kids are so cute for helping someone is a fat load of self-aggrandizement.
My kids, however, don’t get any of that. All they get is there’s this guy and he spends his nights on the bus and he can’t see his kids. They get that he’s a dad, like their dad, and there are kids – like them – who can’t see their dad and they are in the fortunate position to be able to help. So they did the only thing in their power.
That’s more than most people do.
It was round about 11:15 when a car pulled up and a woman got out. I recognized her as one of the walkers without a wallet. “I came back,” she told Ben, “because I think what you’re doing is so important.” She bought a cookie with a twenty-dollar bill. No change.
Did we change the world on Saturday? No. But my kids did raise $76 to help a dad get back on his feet.