Other than eating and getting in trouble, few 7-year-old boys remain dedicated to a cause for the next nine years. When Collinsville’s Bryce Kelly sets up his Alex’s Lemonade Stand Friday and Saturday, it will be the ninth straight year the 16-year-old has hosted the childhood cancer fundraiser.
What started out as just a lemonade stand has evolved into a two-day fundraising event that has raised more than $22,000. A toy drive, dunk tank, bounce house, raffle, band and Fredbird will complement the hotdogs and lemonade available for a donation.
The event, billed as Bryce Kelly’s 9th annual Alex’s Lemonade Stand, is also the first stop of a benefit poker run Saturday. The fundraiser draws so many visitors that the Collinsville Street Department will provide safety cones to block off the side of the street in front of 704 Caseyville Road, in Collinsville.
The story of Bryce Kelly hosting an annual Alex’s Lemonade Stand actually starts before Bryce was born. The best friends of Bryce’s mother, Laura Tosi, lost their 6-year-old son, T.J. McKee, to neuroblastoma before Bryce was born. The story Bryce saw on television, that inspired a then 7-year-old Bryce to start fundraising for childhood cancer, was that of Alexandra Scott, a Connecticut girl who died from neuroblastoma in 2004 at age 8.
That both children died from the same rare type of childhood cancer is more than just coincidence, Tosi said.
“This is why I believe in fate,” Tosi said.
Fate may play an even bigger role in the childhood cancer fundraising event dedicated to the memory of T.J. McKee and Ella Prickett. Tosi first met the Prickett’s the third year of Bryce’s lemonade stand. The family shared the story of their daughter, Ella, who died from neuroblastoma, at age 8, in June 2006, just two months before Bryce’s first lemonade stand.
A few years later, Tosi, who is a daycare teacher, received a new teacher’s aid in her classroom. She liked the girl immediately and the bond was mutual. When Hannah told her parents about the new person with whom she was working, her parents realized they already knew Tosi. Hannah is Ella’s older sister.
To further Tosi’s belief in fate, her son’s first lemonade stand was held on Aug. 1, 2006, the two-year anniversary of Alex Scott’s death. The event this year, perhaps her son’s last, begins on Aug. 1.
Bryce, who will be a junior at Collinsville High School this fall, said he has remained dedicated to the event through his adolescence and into high school, in part, because it is fun.
“It’s a lot work, but when it gets here, it’s fun,” Bryce said.
The amount of work she and her son put into the event has decreased slightly over the years as they have built a network of supporters, Tosi said. Planning for the event the first few years stated in February, Tosi said, but was reduced to about a month and a half this year.
Among the network of supporters is Fredbird, whom Tosi met a few months before Bryce’s second fundraiser. Tosi helped Fredbird find a place to change out of costume when she was working at the S.S. Peter and Paul picnic. She took a chance and asked him about donating his time. Friday will mark the eighth appearance by the St. Louis Cardinals’ mascot at Bryce Kelly’s annual Alex’s Lemonade Stand.
Bryce’s network of supporters runs deep in the community, Tosi said. In addition to friends and family that volunteer each year, Cost Less Copy Center donated flyers, Farmer’s Market is donating lemons, Jammin’ Jumpers is donating the bounce house, Novacich’s Meat Market will donate the hotdogs and many other local businesses donated items for raffle.
“That’s why you support your local businesses,” Tosi said.
The desire to help is infectious, Bryce’s father, Bryan Kelly, said. Each year, a few children who stop for lemonade end up helping, Kelly said. But one story of a stranger helping sticks out in Kelly’s mind.
A 50-year-old autistic man left a group home in St. Louis one year and made his way to the area near the Poplar Street Bridge, Kelly said. From there, he got a ride to a nearby Metro Link station. The man then walked to the lemonade stand from the Fairview Heights Metro Link station, an 11-mile trek.
When the man arrived, drenched in sweat, he could not drink the lemonade, Kelly said, because he was diabetic. The family made sure the man had plenty of water and food and found out that he had made the journey because he had a collection of St. Louis Cardinals memorabilia he wanted to donate.
If another local person is inspired to start an Alex’s Lemonade Stand, taking the place of Bryce’s, he is willing to mentor the person through the startup process. With college looming and his goal of raising $20,000 for childhood cancer met, Bryce is considering making this the last year he hosts the event, but he would like to see it continue.
“If someone wants to start one, we will give them our contact list and help them out,” Bryce said.
Another successful year, however, could convince Bryce to keep going for another year or two, he said.
The Bryce Kelly’s 9th annual Alex’s Lemonade Stand runs from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at 704 Caseyville Road, in Collinsville. Fredbird appears from 3-3:30 p.m. Friday and the cover band Covering Fire will play from 2 – 5 p.m. Saturday.
Bryce also collects toys at the fundraising event, which he takes to Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital the final day before school starts each year. Food items for donation to local pantries will also be accepted.
For those unable to attend, online donations can be made at http://www.alexslemonade.org/mypage/1115216
More information about the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation can found at http://www.alexslemonade.org/.