Sparta kids mix lemonade with compassion for Katrina's victims

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:52

    SPARTA n All the kids within earshot of Indian Trail in the Lake Mohawk section of Sparta got together Labor Day weekend to say goodbye to summer. They sat on lawn furniture, ate pizza out of the box, popped "munchkins" into their mouths and sucked on lollipops while trading stories about the coming school year, the friends they would reunite with, the homework they would grieve about. One of the kids, Victoria Reid, an 11-year-old at Sparta Middle School, stopped in mid-sentence, got out from her umbrella-covered chair, fixed a paper cup of lemonade, and handed it to a middle-aged couple. She and her friends had been cordial hosts throughout the weekend, offering lemonade to motorists, cyclists, mothers and fathers, babies in strollers n anyone with a thirst and a desire to donate to victims of Hurricane Katrina. By early Tuesday morning, the modest little lemonade stand near the Lake Mohawk boardwalk, some thousands of miles from the banks of the Mississippi River, had collected more than $5,700 to go toward the relief efforts of the Sussex County Red Cross. Scenes like this drive-by aid stand were played out over the past week across Sparta and Sussex County as agencies, churches, businesses, schools and residents scrambled to organize fund-raising efforts to help the millions affected by what many are calling the most devastating natural disaster to strike the United States. County Red Cross officials continue to reach out to the community for aid and assistance to help the massive relief effort. But no one had asked the kids near Indian Trail in the days following Katrina's path through the Gulf Coast. They had seen the gruesome pictures on television. They had been haunted by the despair. They had enough. "It was a spur of the moment thing," said Reid, as she sat back and watched her friend, Madison Sikorski, run up to a parked four-wheel drive with New York plates. "The devastation, so many people and all the sick. We were just sitting in the backyard and thought this would be a better thing to do." So, the kids, many of them friends since pre-school days, decided to give up one last swim, pass on shopping for school clothes and instead bunker down at the entrance to West Shore Trail, where a crosswalk leads to the Lake Mohawk boardwalk playground. "I'd be at the mall, but this is much better," said Emily Frimberger, who was celebrating her 12th birthday. "We're helping to save lives and get money for people who need it in the United States." The kids made signs to attract customers while their parents canvassed the kitchen cabinets in search of lemonade, ice tea, and bottled water, whatever they needed to get started. "It was what do we have; what do we need to buy?" said Caroll Lanyi. "I thought I had lemonade, but I had to go to the store." By the end of the first day, the kids had gone through seven gallons of water, but there was plenty more lemonade to go round. As the weekend progressed, word spread throughout town, on the radio, in the local stores. By early Sunday evening, they had amassed more than $3,000 from all sorts of people, from all sorts of places. A school kid who had been painting a house all day chipped in a couple of bucks. An elderly couple stopped. So did police officers. A gray bearded motorcyclist left behind $130 that had fallen out of his leather jacket. The kids tracked him down and gave the money back n on the house. He thought his good fortune was worth a $5 drink before heading off again. "I thought it would be good to help out," said Abby Haueter, a fourth-grader at the Alpine School. "It feels good, knowing that we might help save a couple of lives." A 50-cent cup was certainly worth the price, but most gave $1 donations. Some gave $20s. One even gave $100. All gave compassion. "The wonderful aspect of all this is that the kids get to see the generosity of the neighborhood," said Carrie Skuraton, a visitor from Mendham who stopped for a drink and a bit of goodwill conversation. There's no telling where the kids will go from here. Some talked about volunteering in school. The parents spoke of possible matching gifts from the places where they work. All talked about what they had already accomplished. "I would have been happy if we made $100 through the entire weekend," said 11-year-old Katie Lanyi, whose previous sales experience had been limited to backyard garage sales. "I had no idea we'd make this much."