Making LemonAid

After nearly 30 years, this Easterseals fundraiser still stands the test of time.

A major annual fundraiser for Easterseals Rehabilitation Center had modest origins back in 1996, in Emilie and Kaitlin Thompson’s front yard.

The identical twin sisters have cerebral palsy (Emilie also has Type 1 diabetes and mitochondrial disease) were about to turn 10 years old and were child ambassadors for Easterseals. They decided to host a LemonAid Stand to support the rehabilitation center, and word spread fast. The Thompsons’ lawn was filled with donations of baked goods, a snow cone machine, and local news crews.

About $400 was raised by day’s end, and the following year – the Thompsons say it was because of rain – the event was moved from the family’s home to the Easterseals lobby and front lawn at 3701 Bellemeade Ave.

It’s been there ever since and has taken on a life of its own. Now a summer staple of Evansville, the event attracts a big crowd every year, and its annual take has grown from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.

In addition to a lunch offering barbecue, burgers, sides, and treats, there’s also an online prize auction. All proceeds benefit Easterseals, which provides rehabilitative services to residents across the Tri-State region regardless of their ability to pay.

“It’s really a labor of love that takes months and months to put together,” says Kaitlin Thompson, now 38 years old. Her sister Emilie adds, “It’s awesome that what we started has continued with other families.”

Abby Wells’ family has hosted the event for the last five years. Thursday’s event – 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the rehabilitation center – will be their last in the role, now that Abby has graduated from Castle High School in Newburgh, Indiana.

“It’s our turn to pass the baton,” says Abby’s mother, Amy.

Born with Pontocerebellar Hypoplasia Type 1B, a spinal motor neuron degeneration so rare that only 82 people in the world are diagnosed with it, Abby’s assistance from Easterseals has helped her to perform with Castle’s marching band as well as participate in archery.

Amy says her family, which includes her husband Mark and Abby’s brothers P.J. and Noah, looks forward to one more round hosting the LemonAid stand. Abby will be in her usual spot for the event, at the slushie machine.

“It gives us a way to give back to Easterseasls, as they have helped Abby in so many ways,” Amy says. “They probably have no idea how much it has helped her self-confidence and achieve goals.”

Last year’s LemonAid stand raised about $6,000, and Amy says this year’s goal is to surpass that. She spoke of the vast community and regional generosity shown in the donations of food and auction prizes.

The auction offers a variety of items and experiences – tickets to the Louisville, Kentucky, zoo, the Magic House Saint Louis, Missouri, Children’s Museum, Kings Island near Cincinnati, Ohio, and Evansville’s Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden.

Sports fans can bid on Saint Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, and Evansville Otters baseball home game packages, as well as Indiana University football tickets. There are many offers from local businesses and restaurants, as well as home decor items. More can be found on the auction website, and bidding ends May 30 at 5 p.m.

In addition to the Thompson and Wells families, the family of Owen George also hosted the LemonAid stand for several years. Emilie Thompson notes the loyalty so many area residents have in supporting Easterseals, and it’s evident at each summer’s LemonAid stand.

“We see the same people come every year,” she says.

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