No one could have blamed Grayson Gingery and Blair Umbel for wanting to spend their last days of summer vacation hanging out with friends or sipping lemonade by the pool.
But the Connelly School of the Holy Child eighth-graders — who started school Sept. 6 — had different plans. Shocked by the television and news reports of devastation to the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the girls set up a lemonade stand to raise money for the American Red Cross.
Wednesday morning, as levees broke in New Orleans and the extent of the damage there began to emerge, Grayson and Blair chose a spot in Grayson’s River Falls neighborhood. Not much traffic there.
On Thursday they called Jarunee Chantraparnik, owner of Toys Unique in Potomac Village and asked if they could set up in front of her store. Chantraparnik was thrilled to accommodate them — Grayson’s brother had done the same thing following the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
“Within an hour we made $100,” Grayson said as cars continued to pull up to the stand at 3 p.m.
Some of the customers simply bought the lemonade for 50 cents a cup. Many intentionally overpaid — a dollar for one cup, or five dollars for two.
Still more just thanked the children for what they were doing and offered a cash donation. Many gave $10 or $20, the girls said. Along with the money, they offered high-fives, words of encouragement, and thanks.
Falls Road resident Sandy Ellis made a donation and thanked the girls. Her own daughter had made pictures and trinkets to sell door-to-door in their neighborhood for the same cause.
“I just think it’s important,” Ellis said. “These kids could be … at the mall, spending their parents’ money, but they’re out there trying to help people that they don’t even know.”
A few minutes later, a boy about their age rode by on a bicycle and shouted, “Keep it up!”
Grayson said they didn’t know him. He had simply bought lemonade.
The pair, in some ways, were no different from any of the thousands of Montgomery County citizens that simply wanted to do something. Neither girl had immediate family affected by the disaster. No one had compelled them to set up the stand. They just wanted to help.
“We have family friends that have family that lost everything,” Grayson said. And that was enough. “It was really sad. Our parents started crying.”
Chantraparnik said she was proud to have the girls in front of her store.
“I’ve seen them since they were little. They have been regular customers. … I’ve seen them growing up,” Chantraparnik said. “These are the kind of children who are going to grow up to be a wonderful citizen.”
Grayson and Blair — still waving signs, shouting at each car at 4 p.m. — said they were thinking about returning Friday.
“We could have been at the mall today, shopping or something Blair said, “but we’d rather do this. It feels great.”