Katelyn and Elias Smidt could not believe their earnings from their lemonade stand. That was until a surprising visitor stole it. But it was what happened next that truly left them speechless. Here's their story.
Where It All Began
Whether we once ran one ourselves or often see the local kids setting up shop, most of us are very familiar with the concept of lemonade stands - a true staple feature of peaceful suburban life.
Innocent kids hand out cups of lemonade to the passers-by, excitedly counting up the dollars earned. Safe to say, it would take a rare individual to steal this hard-earned money away from such a child. Unfortunately, that's exactly what happened to two children...
Katelyn and Elias Smidt, nine-year-old twins from Ames, Iowa, pleaded with their mother all summer to let them set up a lemonade stand. They'd seen all their friends do it and wanted to give it a try. With the minimal resources required for set-up, the children were confident they were up for the challenge.
Despite her initial hesitations, mom Karen gave in and helped her kids set up the booth just outside their home. It was a relatively safe neighborhood, and they would be right under her watch. Karen and the kids could never have predicted the crime they would soon fall victim to...
An Innocent Gesture
For Katelyn and Elias, it wasn't about the money. It was more of a fun hobby. They just wanted the experience of running a stall by themselves and interacting with their friendly neighbors. For this reason, they decided to serve the lemonade free of charge.
They made sure to put up a sign telling people the drinks were free but still put out a tip jar in case people felt they wanted to donate! Within a matter of hours, what started out as a charitable community lemonade stall, turned into a profitable business venture.
A Successful Day
Whenever someone would walk past their stand, the kids would excitedly offer them a refreshing cup of lemonade. Acknowledging their friendly smiles and kind gesture, their customers felt the need to give back - and many decided to put money in the children's tip jar.
Just a few hours after setting up shop, the twins noticed their tip jar overflowing. Too excited to wait until the end of the day, they decided to take a well-earned break and count up their earnings. After a bit of help from mom, they calculated a total between $50 and $100 and could not wait to get back to work!
A Turn For The Worse
"We've had so many amazing people stop by," Karen posted excitedly on Facebook, praising the support of the local community. She could never have predicted what would happen next - until this point, everyone had been so friendly and kind towards her children.
No one thought much of it when a black car pulled up outside the lemonade stand, and a woman walked out towards the children. Likely someone from the neighboring town had stopped by. It was impossible for anyone to have known what the tragic outcome of her visit would be…
By this point in the day, Karen felt confident in her children's ability to run the stand without her direct supervision. She needed to return to the house to prepare more lemonade and decided it would be fine to leave them to it while she quickly ran inside.
The timing of her decision to go inside the house would soon prove unfortunate, as the kids would be forced to face their greatest challenge yet without their mother by their side. Later on, Karen would wonder if she could have prevented their heartbreak if she had gone inside just ten minutes later.
With their innocent intention of generosity and kindness, Elias and Katelyn welcomed the visitor with a smile. Katelyn asked the woman if she would like a cup of fresh lemonade, to which she accepted. As they began to work together to prepare the drink for their customer, they took their eyes off the tip jar.
Unfortunately, the stranger was not looking to pay them back for their kindness and took advantage of their fleeting moment of distraction. She grabbed the now-full tip jar and ran off. Before the children even realized what she had done, she jumped into the passenger seat of the waiting car and drove off speedily.
The Children’s Reaction
The children were left devastated. Up until this point, they were having one of the best days of their lives. Now, it was a nightmare. When Karen returned to the stall, she saw her two kids in tears and her mind raced about what could have happened in her brief absence.
Through tears, the twins recounted the events to their mother, shocked at the heartless action of the stranger. Karen desperately tried to console her children, ensuring them it wasn't their fault. Her heart broke looking at her children's disappointed faces, and she wondered what she could do.
“They Found Their Smiles Back”
Thankfully, the twins were more resilient than mom Karen could have ever imagined. After a good cry, Elias and Katelyn decided they were not going to let the setback ruin their day or their new business and set out to put the lemonade stand back in business. Proud mom Karen took to Facebook to praise her children publicly.
"The kids could have easily shut the stand down. They didn't. They chose to stay open and continue serving lemonade to the MANY MANY good people in this community. They did not allow one bad apple ruin the day for many. Instead, they found their smiles back and put smiles on the faces of many more," she wrote.
As Karen watched her children serve their customers with a smile and hold back their tears, she was in awe of their perseverance. She knew they would be happy just to keep serving their customers and earning a few more dollars in tips, but she wanted to do more for them...
She had already seen how kind her community could be and decided they would be the best people to consult first. Speaking with the neighbors, she told them about the incident and asked them to come up with ideas on how to help. She had no idea how generous they would prove to be...
Weighing Their Options
Before they could begin making a plan, Karen's neighbors advised her that she should call the police and report the crime. They told her that it was the right thing to do in a bid to catch the woman and prevent it from happening again - especially to other innocent children.
Karen was skeptical, though. She knew they had very few worthy details about the event, and therefore the police would be limited in what they could do for them. Without the car's license plate or an accurate description of the stealing customer, they would have a hard time bringing the criminal to justice.
Calling For Backup
Finally, Karen gave in and contacted the Ames Police Department. She told them all the details that she had noted down, but the officers requested to speak with the children themselves in order to get a first-hand account and fill any gaps in the story she had provided them.
Karen was slightly hesitant to get the kids involved and force them to re-live the incident, but Katelyn wanted to help out. "Katelyn filed her first police report and did an incredible job of staying calm through the tears and answering all of Officer Rohland's questions," Karen wrote on Facebook.
Arriving to the Scene
Considering how doubtful she was that the Police would be able to do something, she was utterly shocked by their thoughtful response. In addition to launching an investigation into the crime, they also told Karen they wanted to do more for the kids.
The news had spread throughout the police department, and everyone had wanted to get involved. With all the manpower of the Ames Police Department behind them, there was unlimited potential for what they could do for the Smidt children. They started to brainstorm...
Enter Officer Rohland
There was one officer in particular that stood out from the rest. When officer Celena Rohland heard the twins' story of heartbreak and resilience, she decided she wanted to do something immediately to help them. Understanding there was a limit to what she could achieve on her own, she began to call in some favors.
"I started messaging some of the people that I work with, asking them to get together and maybe visit the lemonade stand so that we could make a difference in Katelyn and Elias' day," Officer Celena Rohland told WBNS 10TV. She then jumped in her police vehicle to lead the way.
A Special Visit
Katelyn and Elias could not contain their excitement when officer Rohland drove up in her police car and walked toward their lemonade stand with a big smile. “She was absolutely phenomenal with Katelyn,” Karen told The Ames Tribune in reference to the visit.
Within minutes of Rohland's arrival, the kids' spirits had been lifted. They were so honored that the officer had taken time out of her busy day to visit them and even given them a donation in exchange for the lemonade. Little did they know, there was so much more to come...
The Ultimate Surprise
Before the kids could process the special visit they had just received, a line began to form at the lemonade stand. The Ames Police Department had listened to Officer Rohland's request and turned up in a big way. All the way down the sidewalk, the police officers waited patiently in line to buy a cup of lemonade.
"The look on my kids' faces was… you just can't even describe it," Karen recalled in an interview with The Ames Tribune. And that wasn't it. Word of the lemonade stand had spread beyond the police department, and all the state departments wanted to come and help the children earn back their losses.
"Imagine our shock and awe when we saw oh my goodness so many Ames Police Department, Ames Fire Department, Iowa State University Police Department, and Story County Sheriff's Office drive into our neighborhood to support our kids! [Shocked and heart emojis] The look on our kids' faces was priceless!" Karen wrote on Facebook.
There were officers everywhere. "There are not enough words of gratitude at this point!! Our lemonade stand was FLOODED with so much generosity today!" Karen wrote on Facebook. At this point, the twins and their mother were unsure if they could keep up with the overwhelming demand.
Immediately after the traumatic incident, the children were hesitant to trust strangers again and were nervous when interacting with them. One of the most significant differences these officers made was in their confidence. They began to see that good people outweigh the bad people, after all.
Slowly they began to open up again to the customers and chat with them. "Our kids went from scared and unsure how to trust the next person… to wide-eyed, smiling, and so excited," Karen told Fox News in reference to the impact of the officers' visit.
Now they had their confidence back; the twins couldn't wait to get the stand back to full functionality. "It chokes me up to see these kids as happy as they are right now. That's what it's about. Taking care of our community," Kyle Dirks told KCCI News.
They knew that this time around, they needed to do something different. At first, it was just a hobby, but it had now become a community project, and the children recognized its potential to be something even bigger. They had seen how people had turned up for them and they had an idea…
Turning the Tables
Sticking to their original business plan, the twins continued to give away the lemonade for free and have an optional tip policy. This time though, they would make it clear to the customers that their tips were not going towards their own pocket money fund - but to a better cause.
After a brief discussion, they settled on a charity. Katelyn and Elias were so grateful for the kindness shown by the state officials that they wanted to find a way to repay them. After a bit of research, they knew exactly to who they were giving all the proceeds…
Shop With a Cop
'Shop With a Cop' is a charity set up in 1994 by the Ames Police Foundation with the goal of helping children of disadvantaged families, especially during the holiday period. The annual charity event involves officers being paired up with children in the community for a day of fun.
According to their site, "officers and their special young guests will head off to Target via CyRide for a morning of shopping, eating, gift wrapping, and fun." Supporting this Police founded charity was a way for the twins to give back to the police department and the wider community.
With a story like this, it was merely a matter of time until the news outlets caught word of it. Within days, multiple publications and news broadcasting networks were reaching out to Karen to cover the story. Of course, the family was happy to recount the events, provide quotes, and spread the word about their charity.
In addition to the local news outlets such as KKCI News and We Are Iowa Local 5 News, there was also some national coverage! Bobby Bones reported the story in his segment Tell Me Something Good, and CBS Sunday Morning filmed a short clip about the incident and included interviews with the children themselves.
As the story spread like wildfire, so did the associated hashtag #lemonaderobbery. It was used by multiple people who wanted to share the heartfelt story with their friends and family and by those campaigning to raise funds for the children's chosen charity.
Their mom Karen also used the hashtag to keep her followers updated. Including it at the beginning of each Facebook post, she reported on their charitable efforts and let people know when the stand was open. She shared countless photos of the children and their visitors and continuously thanked people for their support.
A Well-Deserved Break
After serving more cups of lemonade than they knew possible, the twins were mentally and physically exhausted. Elias told his mother that his "back hurt so bad from sitting on that chair without a back for three days!" They needed some time to recover, so Karen and the twins decided to shut up shop for the time being.
"The lemonade stand will not open today. These kids are exhausted, and we declare today a mental health recovery day!" Karen notified her followers on Facebook. Within minutes, the comment section was filled with words of support from strangers who agreed with their decision to take a well-deserved break.
Spreading the Love
Even though the physical lemonade stand had temporarily been shut down, the twins and their mother wanted to keep up the charitable effort and continue making a difference. They set up a 'virtual lemonade stand' on Venmo and encouraged people to keep donating.
People from all over the world were sending money towards the charity campaign. "Oh....my....GOODNESS!!!! People are SO SO SO GOOD!!! Thank you all for being part of this amazing show of support and showing so many how good always wins!!" Karen exclaimed on her social media profile.
Paying it Forward
After the restful day off, where the twins and their mother enjoyed some time in front of the television, they sprung back into action. They didn't decide to set the lemonade stand back up - but they had another idea for how they could spend their day.
Not wanting to risk again losing the money they had earned, they asked their mother to help them set up a bank account to keep it safe. "Today, the kids opened a Pay it Forward bank account at Great Western Bank and deposited the cash from the corner stand!" Karen proudly told her Facebook followers.
Life Changing Totals
As the donations continued to flood in, they realized they might soon reach $5000! "We thought $5k was a crazy number, but you have shown us it's possible, and it just keeps going up!" Karen gasped. The Pumpkin Ranch even agreed to match all funds until they reached their $5K goal!!
Soon enough, they had done it. "Because of each of you, together, as a team, we are over $5K in donations to Shop with a Cop!" Karen announced. Of course, the family was overwhelmingly pleased with the success, but they knew they could stretch the momentum of the moment even further.
In an attempt to raise more funds, the family set up a website to sell merchandise! "If you love swag to commemorate events, allow yourself to feel the hug that AMES gives when you order a shirt or coffee mug! We have many people believing we will get to $10k! Perhaps the swag will be what gets us there?!?!?" Karen wrote.
Selling shirts, sweaters, kid's clothes, hats, and drinkware, at an average price of $19, the stock was selling out fast. All the products featured a lemon with the words "when life hands you lemons, AMES makes lemon-ade." Everyone who had been following the story couldn't wait to get their hands on the merchandise.
The Big Reveal
"Today was THE day!! THE day we have been waiting for since the #lemonaderobbery!" Karen excitedly announced to her Facebook followers. For the four months since the incident, the kids and their mother had worked tirelessly to raise what they could for their new heroes. Now it was time to hand over the check.
"We were able to present the check to the Shop with a Cop program," Karen wrote. "From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you all!! We can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt, your donation was so very appreciated, and you are definitely making an incredible difference for many this Christmas!"
A Valuable Life Lesson
The community had shown its incredible spirit. The children learned the true meaning of the phrase, 'when life hands you lemons, make lemonade.' The experience taught the twins and the rest of the world how good people could be and showed the power of community.
"What…a….lesson!!!" Karen wrote on Facebook. "What could have been an easy roll of the eye, frustration, and doubting youth turned into the most amazing story about pressing on, trusting again, and all the good that comes when you don't give up and focus on the positive."