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Making lemonade—virtually

COVID–19 turned this year into a “lemon” for The Salvation Army in Central Ohio. However, its response was to “make lemonade,” as the saying goes, and they did it virtually.

The 5th–annual LemonAID fundraiser, a series of lemonade stands to raise money for poor children, kicked off in late May with a major twist—the event is completely online. Ironically, the Army had planned to introduce the virtual option before COVID–19 caused a nationwide shutdown.

“While the method has changed, the LemonAiD program is still a wonderful way to teach kids that they can make a positive difference in their community,” said Major Debra Ashcraft, the area coordinator. “The virtual concept makes it more flexible than ever.

“Last year, The Salvation Army served 24,702 children in Central Ohio. The Salvation Army will use 100 percent of the LemonAiD donations to provide food and programs to help lift children out of homelessness and poverty.”

Ashcraft said the program works like this:

  • Parents register online at
  • Army staffers mail a free packet of promotional materials and emails a link to set up a personalized virtual LemonAiD page for the child(ren). Staffers assist parents with the virtual stand set–up.
  • Children create short videos and artwork to promote their virtual LemonAiD stand to friends and family and encourages them to donate.
  • Parents assist with the promotion by sending a link to their child’s videos, artwork, and virtual stand to other people through email and social media.
  • Each child can see the names of his/her virtual stand donors and can send them “thank you” messages.

“The virtual option also enables the child to gain support from family who are far away,” Major Debra said. “The traditional model was great, but you have to be in the vicinity to show up at the lemonade stand. This way, aunts and uncles and grandchildren who live far away can still support these efforts to help children who are less fortunate.”

The program runs through July 18, so there is plenty of time to gain support.

Ashcraft and her husband, Major Steven Ashcraft, began LemonAID in 2007 when they were stationed in Lexington, Ky. “I was praying for God to reveal some ideas on fundraising, especially for the children in our shelter in Lexington,” Major Debra said.

When the Lexington Corps raised $360,000 in one weekend to help the child victims of Hurricane Katrina, donors put their money in a giant kettle at a local mall. Debra noticed that many children brought money in jars and paper bags that they had raised from their lemonade stands.

“So, when I was praying for funding for our emergency shelter, that picture memory came back to me about four times,” Debra said. “We shared with our advisory board that we felt God was leading us to invite the kids in the community to have a lemonade stand and that all the proceeds would go to support our work with homeless children. It was such a huge success.”

The first year, with a theme of “Kids Helping Homeless Kids,” more than 1,200 children took part and raised $40,000 between the lemonade stands and corporate donations. Debra also got calls from several national youth organizations asking how to start a similar program.

“It was so easy, and it was a way that other Salvation Army corps could use the program and raise money,” she said. “We’re connecting with two generations of younger donors for The Salvation Army —the children and the parents.”

When the Ashcrafts moved to Columbus, Ohio, they brought the LemonAID idea with them with the theme “Kids Helping Kids.” The first one was held in 2016.

Debra said all of the proceeds go to food, after school and summer tutoring, music classes, and free summer day camp (COVID–19 caused the cancellation of this year’s summer events). One in four children in Columbus and one in five in the state of Ohio live in poverty.

Last year’s LemonAID drew almost 1,100 children and raised more than $70,000 including corporation donations, Deborah said.

The Salvation Army held a finale last year at the Columbus Zoo, where participants brought the money they raised and put it in a giant kettle. This year, every child hosting a virtual LemonAiD stand will be mailed a special celebration packet featuring a commemorative LemonAiD T–shirt and other surprises.

by Robert Mitchell

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