In a new twist on an old summertime tradition, Berkeley children put up a lemonade stand on Saturday to raise money for their schools.
The children and their parents selling lemonade in front of Old City Hall on Saturday morning were volunteers for Berkeley Schools Now (BSN), a parent-organized group dedicated to raising $500,000 by Dec. 31 for the city’s 16 public schools. The group’s organizers prepared fliers to hand out to passersby, and their children gave impassioned impromptu speeches about programs at their school that are in danger of elimination as a result of budget cuts at the local, state, and federal levels.
Saturday’s event was timed to coincide with the mailing of a letter from State Assembly member Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley), encouraging all Berkeley parents to donate their tax refund checks to BSN. Any residents who declared dependent children on their 2002 tax returns will receive a $400 rebate this summer, money that Hancock said should return to the schools that are suffering because of such tax cuts.
“This is tax money that should have gone to schools in the first place,” Hancock wrote. “I urge you to invest your tax dollars in Berkeley’s children today. The return on your investment is incalculable.”
The parents and students hosting the refreshment stand on Saturday handed out copies of Hancock’s letter, then asked pedestrians to donate whatever money they could on the spot. In return, children handed each donor a cup of lemonade, many of which ended up costing the customers $10 or $20.
“I handed a little boy a $10 bill because I want him to grow up in good schools, which Berkeley has the capability, if not the resources, to provide,” said Berkeley resident Alan Park. “But the cold lemonade was a nice bonus.”
BSN co-founder and executive board member Zasa Swanson said that the lemonade stand provided a good opportunity to get children involved in raising money for their own education.
“It was all about having the kids participate,” Swanson said. “They would just go up to people without any prompting and ask them to help their school. It’s important to see the faces of the people this affects the most.”
Swanson’s son, Tyler, said he was glad that many people gave him money when he worked at the lemonade stand.
“We need to support our schools because they’re a little short on funds,” said Tyler, a fifth-grader at Arts Magnet School. “I hope it will help teachers’ pay at my school.”
Although Swanson and other organizers were unsure of exactly how much money they raised at Saturday’s event, they said they were pleased with the turnout and community support.
“Berkeley people in general are extremely helpful,” Swanson said. “This is a problem for all of us, and people recognize that. They really want to help.”
The lemonade stand was only one of a number of fundraising activities put on by BSN, who will allocate the funds they raise to individual schools’ site councils based on enrollment at that particular school. Parent volunteers have been tabling at local supermarkets and farmers’ markets, and the group has sponsored a series of community meetings where attendees “pass the hat” to solicit donations. Swanson said future fundraising opportunities will include phone calls to Berkeley residents as well as more activities involving students.
In her letter, Hancock commended BSN for their commitment to raising the $500,000 for Berkeley’s 16 public schools, citing a meeting at which a small group of parents raised $5,000 and pledges from single working parents to contribute $1,000 each by combining their tax rebates with monthly credit card payments.
“While $500,000 will by no means address all the problems created by $10 million in budget cuts, it will make a difference in the education of all Berkeley’s schoolchildren,” she said.
“I think everybody needs to help when the schools are in trouble,” said her son Tyler. “I want to help all the schools.”
The next BSN meeting will be held at the Berkeley Unified School District annex at 1835 Allston St. at 7:30 p.m. To make a tax-deductible contribution, address checks to the Berkeley Public Education Foundation and write “Berkeley Schools Now” in the memo line.