A group of children manned a lemonade stand on a Santa Monica street corner Saturday morning, waving posters urging passersby to buy a beverage and a cookie and help "Save Our Teachers." A woman pulled up in an SUV, ordered five cookies and handed over a $100 bill. She told the youngsters to give her only $50 in change.
The gesture, met with cheers and applause, gave a generous boost to Project Lemon-Aid — a fundraising initiative inspired by students and aimed at helping offset budget cuts to the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.
"A lot of my past teachers have gotten a pink slip and I want to save them," said Emily Newberry, 11, who worked at the lemonade stand at Stanford Street and Montana Avenue.
"The classes will get bigger and it's going to be harder for the teachers to teach," added 8-year-old Weston MacWilliams.
The lemonade stand was one of dozens that were expected to be set up in Santa Monica and Malibu over the weekend.
They hoped to raise funds for the cash-strapped school district, which had to slash $7.1 million from the budget of the upcoming academic year after a local school funding measure was voted down in May.
The cuts include the elimination of 65 teacher and other staff positions; the closing of all elementary school libraries; and the axing of some elementary school music programs. Larger class sizes are also expected.
In an effort to provide "a critical stop-gap," the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation has launched a 60-day fundraising campaign called Save Our Schools.
So far, the campaign has raised more than $200,000, with an additional $100,000 in pledges, according to Linda Greenberg Gross, the foundation's executive director.
Gross acknowledged that it was unlikely that all the funds needed would be raised by the Aug. 15 deadline, but said whatever was collected would go toward partial restoration of positions and programs.
"Every little bit counts," said Gross.
That's why when first-grader Ezra Krieger told his mother that he, Weston and a few other pals wanted to sell lemonade to try to raise funds for teachers, Jennifer Roth Krieger was eager to help them give it a shot.
Last weekend they set up lemonade stands at two separate corners. In just a few hours, the children took in $250.
"We realized that we had really tapped into something," said Krieger, who has three children in Santa Monica schools. "It's an opportunity to teach our kids ... that whatever part you play can go a long way."
So this weekend, Krieger decided to take the initiative districtwide. Word was spread by mouth, over the Internet and through fliers. Scores of parents chipped in to help their children set up lemonade stands throughout the district.
"It's really a grassroots effort among the kids," said Bruce MacWilliams, Weston's father. "We're the ones who are following the kids. They are the ones who are leading."
While most parents praised the children's efforts, some blamed state legislators for a budget crisis that has resulted in cuts to public schools, forcing constituents to come up with ways to foot education bills in the first place.
"I think it's a shame that parents and kids have to do this," Michael Conn, who has two children in Santa Monica schools, said of the Project Lemon-Aid initiative. "It's irresponsible for the state not to watch their finances."
Choir enthusiasts Caitlin Kerwin, 15, and Chloe Abarbanel, 14, who joined other high school friends at a lemonade stand at the corner of Santa Monica's Washington Avenue and Harvard Street, said they were hoping that any money they raised would at the very least help elementary schools' music programs.
"Music is the thing that makes me want to come to school in the morning," said Chloe. "Without the foundation you get in elementary school, you can't reach the highest level."
They were grateful when neighbor Dean Stackel and his 12-year-old son Ben arrived at their stand to donate $20. They didn't want any lemonade, cookies or Rice Krispies treats. They simply wanted to help.
The young fundraisers who dotted the district Saturday were hopeful that such generosity would help them reap a bounty.
By 2 p.m., the stand at Stanford and Montana had taken in $800 — and sold out of lemonade.