Ann Farrell was in fifth grade on Sept. 11, 2001, and while she didn't immediately grasp the devastating ramifications of the day, she did piece together moments.
Her teacher, suddenly pulled out of the classroom and returning "visibly upset." The unusual fire drill her school held that afternoon. And returning home to find her mother still in her pajamas, having barely moved from where Ann remembers seeing her that morning.
By evening, Farrell "started to understand what was going on." And because she lived in a big-hearted Eden Prairie community called Olympic Hills, she started to understand something more: That no matter how young she was, she could contribute to her neighborhood's — and her nation's — long road to healing.
Within days of the attacks, Ann and her younger sister, Jessie, joined other kids and parents for a simple lemonade stand at the bottom of the driveway of neighbor Sue Donkersgoed. In a few hours, their little jug of lemonade and platter of cookies raised $1,100 for charity, with many donations of $20 to $100. Hardly anybody asked for change.
"It gave people something they felt they could do," Farrell said. "We're many miles from New York where the epicenter of the tragedy was, but it still felt like it was next door to some people."
Twenty years and more than $66,000 in donations later, the Olympic Hills 9/11 Lemonade Stand has become an annual fundraiser to benefit veterans, as well as a joyful communal gathering and an example of collaboration.
"The cool thing about this is that now the kids who work it were born after I graduated high school," said Ann's sister, Jessie Farrell, a 27-year-old accountant living in St. Louis Park.
"These kids still have the opportunity to understand and learn about philanthropy in a way that most 8- and 9- year-olds don't get."
"The lemonade stand is probably one of the more apolitical things in our neighborhood," said Sue's son, Van Donkersgoed, who was in the second grade on 9/11. He's now 27, married and living in Milwaukee, but he participated in every lemonade stand until he left for college.
"It has nothing to do with politics, nothing to do with division," he said. "It is a good cookie. And it's about remembering what happened."
'Something we can do together'
In fact, Sue Donkersgoed's goal from the start was to "never forget." The anniversary, she said, "is a time to stop and reflect on how 9/11 changed the lives of so many veterans and their families."
The ongoing events in Afghanistan make this year's lemonade stand particularly poignant, she said. "I guess I look at today's world and I'm very appreciative that we did not forget. I'm blessed that we've been able to do it. It has really become a community event."
After that first year, (which, Donkersgoed notes, makes this actually the 21st lemonade stand), she decided to make it an annual event. She'd send kids out on their bicycles to place fliers in mailboxes. Neighbors placed little American flags in their yards.
She tapped 14-year-old Gabby Edwards to create an event website, which Gabby said was "a really interesting experience." Others volunteered to help make lemonade or take money.
Samantha Burke, a 21-year-old senior at Cornell University, remembers the weeks leading up to the event, "designing all the posters, which was always really fun, helping with the flier. I'd get right out of my school uniform and don some USA apparel and have cookies and lemonade in the hot sun."
Born in 2000 into a family of Navy veterans, she said her "entire life has essentially been doing the lemonade stand. For me, it's kind of a connection point where I can say, people might have different political views, but this is something we can come together to do. It's formed part of who I am."
Donkersgoed also taught the young people something else of importance: The nuances of "Mrs. Weide's famous chocolate chip cookies," named for the mother of her best friend growing up in Aberdeen, S.D.
"I know exactly how the dough should feel," Donkersgoed said.
(With COVID restrictions this year, the bakers will be masked, gloved and vaccinated. The cookies will be bagged in singles, half-dozens or dozens.)
Making a history lesson real
The annual event, Van said, has grown to feel like a "block party." But the reason for it has never been lost on anybody. It wasn't long before kids eager to participate were learning about 9/11 as a history lesson. Sometimes, Sue would have her young volunteers watch a video about the day's tragic events and then ask their parents "to discuss it with them so they understand what it's about."
Some of the original, older, volunteers wrote about the lemonade stand on their college applications. A few even used the experience during job interviews.
"I think that's pretty funny," Sue Donkersgoed said. "But the kids have taken the depth of it and understand."
She keeps a running list of money raised each year and to which charities it is donated, which is a decision made by volunteers as a group. Recipients have included New York Families ($600); the Airmen and Family Readiness Center ($625) and the New York Police Museum ($407).
More than $5,700 through four lemonade stands has been donated to Sew Much Comfort, which provides adaptive clothing at no charge to wounded veterans.
In 2011, the neighborhood planted four trees at the Sept. 11 memorial and placed a brick with their lemonade stand on it.
In 2019 and 2020, nearly $31,000 was donated to North Star Marine Veterans, which is the recipient this year as well. The small nonprofit was founded by Bill Crawford, a former Marine who lives in the neighborhood. He said he's volunteered for at least 15 lemonade stands.
His nonprofit's mission (northstarmarineveterans.org) is to help active duty military, widows and children, and to aid youth programs in the community. "We're small and we stay more local so we can have more impact," he said.
The funds support programs for the Como Park High School Marine Corps Junior ROTC Program and the Hastings Veterans Home, a rehabilitation center for veterans ranging in age from 20 to 90.
"Because of the lemonade stand," he said, "we helped build a recreation room at the Veterans Home, which included vintage pinball machines."
Money also was used to purchase gift cards and cash during the holidays, as well as a wood shop machine to do engraving. Commemorative ornaments made by residents of the home's Woodworking Crew will be given out at the lemonade stand this year.
"Sue is just a wonderful woman," Crawford said. "They have really helped us make a difference.
"It's not your everyday lemonade stand."
What: 20th annual 9/11 Olympic Hills Lemonade Stand
When: 2 to 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 11
Where: 9497 Painters Ridge, Eden Prairie (follow the flags!)
Facebook page: Olympic Hills 9/11 Lemonade Stand