When Katelyn and Elias Smidt started their lemonade stand, it was an overnight success. But when the twins lost all of their earnings in a robbery, everything changed. Here's their remarkable story.
The Start Of It All
Anyone who grew up in a suburban neighborhood will likely recognize the famous lemonade stand. These thirst-quenching stalls are an enduring symbol of childhood summers and youthful entrepreneurship.
For many young kids who want to earn an extra dollar over the summertime, lemonade stands are the first port of call. They are a secure and easy way to make pocket money - but not for everyone. Just take a look at Katelyn and Elias, who had their stand targeted one traumatizing day…
A Bright Idea
After watching their friends sell lemonade with great success, nine-year-old twins Katelyn and Elias Smidt decided that they wanted in. So one day, in Ames, Iowa, the two children begged their mother to help them set up a lemonade stand of their own.
Their mother, Karen listened to their plans and felt some initial hesitation. But after thinking about it, she decided to encourage her children's drive by helping them to set up a small booth outside of their home while providing the minimal resources needed to get it started. The neighborhood was safe enough - or so she thought…
A Neighborly Gift
Unlike most lemonade stand owners, Katelyn and Elias weren’t interested in making money. For them, it was more about the experience of operating a small venture on their own and having fun while they did it. So they made the decision to give away cups of lemonade for free!
They even hung up a sign on their stall telling their neighbors to grab a cup free of charge. And if their “customers” were so inclined, there was a small tip jar to the side of the stand where generous passersby could donate. As it would turn out, they were much more successful than they could have expected.
Swimming In Tips
So the twins took their seats behind their stall and began offering passersby free cups of delicious lemonade. They welcomed people with bright smiles and conversation, and their neighbors were charmed - both by the delicious lemonade and the cheerful, friendly children.
Many of the grownups on the street felt compelled to give back to the twins, and after a few hours in the sun, Katelyn and Elias were shocked to see that their tip jar was full! They took a quick break and headed inside, to show their mother how much they’d earned - between $50 and $100!
Things Go Downhill
Karen was stunned by the generosity of these people and quickly took to Facebook to share her children's success. "We've had so many amazing people stop by," she wrote, eager to commend her supportive neighbors and the wider community. The twin's endeavor had gone so well, that they couldn't have imagined what happened next.
So when a black car stopped beside the children and their lemonade stand, it was no surprise that everyone assumed it was another thirsty passerby eager to grab a free cup of thirst-quenching lemonade. But as it turned out, the woman who got out of the car had much more sinister purposes in mind.
For the first half of the day, Karen had spent a lot of time supervising her children and their lemonade stand, making sure they were safe and everything was running smoothly. Soon enough, the children had run out of lemonade, so she returned to the house to make more.
After hours of giving out lemonade, she felt confident that the twins would be safe and sound. Unfortunately, her timing couldn’t have been worse. Not only would her children be faced with one of the biggest shocks of their lives, but they had to face it all on their own.
A Cruel "Customer"
Not long after their mother disappeared, a woman in a black car pulled up beside the lemonade stand. Elias and Katelyn smiled at the newcomer, and Katelyn offered her a cup of lemonade. The woman nodded, and both children began preparing a refreshing beverage for the stranger.
But little did they know that the cup of lemonade was just a distraction from the full tip jar beside them. The woman quickly grabbed the tip jar, got back into her car, and sped away. In less than a minute, this grown woman had taken advantage of the two children without them even realizing it.
A State of Panic
Understandably, Katelyn and Elias were terribly upset once they discovered what had happened. The day had gone from a brilliant one to a heartbreaking one in mere moments. With no idea what had happened, Karen returned to the stall to check on her young children.
She was shocked to find both of her children in tears, shaken up by what had just taken place. The twins told their mother what had happened, and Karen did the best she could to console them. The idea that her own innocent children had been robbed was too much to bear. What could she do to help them?
For now, the best she could do was to calm them down and wait for the shock to subside. To her surprise (and immense pride), Elias and Katelyn bounced back within the hour and decided that they weren’t going to spend the rest of their day miserable. Karen headed back to Facebook to inform friends and family.
"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 to ruin the day for many. Instead, they found their smiles back and put smiles on the faces of many more," her post read.
Plan Of Action
Soon enough, Elias and Katelyn were back out on the streets, squeezing lemons and pouring lemonade into cups. They were ready to mingle with the community once again, despite the shocking scene that had just taken place. Karen watched them serve customers, happy they weren’t dwelling on the incident, but still eager to take action.
Over the course of that day, this mother and her children had seen their community show immense kindness and generosity. So Karen set out down the street and began talking to her neighbors about what had taken place, keen to get their take on the matter to see what steps she could take next.
What Should She Do?
But before a plan could be put in place, Karen’s neighbors made a very strong point. Her first priority should be to call the police. After all, it may have just been a tip jar, but it was still a crime. The strange woman had robbed two children, and there was no reason why she wouldn’t do it again.
The mother of two understood her neighbor's sentiments, but she wasn't sure how to go about it. After all, they had very few details about what actually happened. They had no car model or license plate, and since the twins were the only ones who had seen the woman, it would be difficult to even describe her appearance accurately.
Calling For Help
Eventually, Karen decided to err on the side of safety and get the police involved. She got in touch with the Ames Police Department and gave them all of the details they had. But since Karen hadn’t witnessed the event in question, the police asked for a first-hand account from one of the children.
Though she was hesitant at first, the protective mother eventually allowed Katelyn to file a report. "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," she shared with her attentive Facebook friends.
Officers Rally Together
To her utter surprise, the Ames police did not disregard the children's story as Karen had anticipated. Instead, the officers informed her that they were going to launch an immediate investigation in the hopes of tracking down the woman in the black car.
And that wasn’t all. By now, everyone at the Ames Police Department had learned of Elias and Katelyn’s plight, and they were indignant. No one wanted to see local children treated in such a way. And so the department rallied around the Smidt family, eager to help in whatever way they could.
Enter Celena Rohland
As mentioned above, Katelyn's witness statement had been taken down by an officer named Celena Rohland, who was stunned by the seemingly random act of cruelty that had occurred that afternoon. She was invested in the children's case and took the initiative to ask around for further help.
In an interview with WBNS 10TV, officer Rohland explained what she did next. "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," she explained.
Arriving At The Scene
And that’s exactly what happened. It started with officer Rohland, who pulled up to the lemonade stand with her police car and greeted the excited children with a smile. “She was absolutely phenomenal with Katelyn,” Karen recalled in an interview with The Ames Tribunal.
Roland's visit to the lemonade stand immediately brightened the twin's day, further distracting them from the shock they had experienced earlier. It meant the world to the small family that a police officer had chosen to visit them and try their lemonade. And that was just the beginning of their excitement.
One Surprise After Another
While the children were talking with Officer Rohland and scrambling to prepare a fresh glass of lemonade for her, they noticed more cars were arriving on the street. Soon, half of the Ames Police Department were lining up to get a taste of the twin's now-famous lemonade.
Elias and Katelyn were excited beyond words, according to their mother. "The look on my kids' faces was… you just can't even describe it," Karen told the Ames Tribune. But it didn't end there. The state departments had heard about the incident, and dozens more thirsty police officers were heading their way.
“Shock And Awe”
"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!" Karen excitedly shared with her Facebook followers.
"[Shocked and heart emojis] The look on our kids' faces was priceless!" she continued. "There are not enough words of gratitude at this point!! Our lemonade stand was FLOODED with so much generosity today!" So many officers and members of the public joined in that they were soon running out of lemons!
After such an upsetting experience, it’s no surprise that the young twins were still a little shaken up and nervous about serving members of the public again. But with the arrival of so many police officers who were eager to visit their lemonade stand, soon enough, their confidence was restored.
The arrival of so many friendly faces showed them that even after such an upsetting incident, the good still outweighed the bad. "Our kids went from scared and unsure how to trust the next person… to wide-eyed, smiling, and so excited," Karen told Fox News about their day.
After serving countless police officers and neighbors, Katelyn and Elias were back on form. Their confidence was back, and they felt secure enough to get their lemonade stand fully up and running again. “It chokes me up to see these kids as happy as they are right now,” Kyle Dirks told KCCI News.
"That's what it's about. Taking care of our community," he continued. The children's lemonade stand wasn't just a lemonade stand anymore. Their story had gone on to become something that the whole community could unite around, and the family recognized the opportunity they had in front of them.
Making The Best Of The Situation
And so the children and their mother set out to continue sharing their delicious beverages with the wider community, free of charge, of course. There was still a steady flow of tips coming in from happy customers - but now the children knew exactly what they wanted to do with their new nest egg.
They wanted to continue giving back to the community by donating their tip collection to charity. And after a bit of research, they found the perfect fund to donate to. It seemed like the perfect way to give back to an organization that had done so much for them on that fateful day.
‘Shop With a Cop’
They settled on the ‘Shop With a Cop’ charity, which had been helmed by the Ames Police Foundation since 1994. The charity pledged to support children from underprivileged families and did so by pairing officers with individual children who would be taken out for the day.
The charities website describes the day, saying, "officers and their special young guests will head off to Target via CyRide for a morning of shopping, eating, gift wrapping, and fun." The twin's tip funds would go toward both helping children in need and returning the wonderful favor the Ames police officers had done for them.
The Story Spreads
As many of us have seen over the years, heartwarming stories like this one have a tendency to spread. And it was only a matter of time for various news publications, websites, and broadcasting networks wanted to publish Katelyn and Elias’ lemonade stand story.
Local news outlets reached out to Karen and the kids for quotes, but eventually, they caught the attention of national news outlets too! For example, the event was covered by reporter Bobby Bones for the news show Tell Me Something Good, and it also got a mention on CBS Sunday Morning.
Spreading the News
And naturally, much of the attention came from strangers across the internet. Their story even had its own hashtag - #lemonaderobbery. People across the US and even outside of the country were eager to spread the word about the twin's touching story.
Not to mention, Karen and the kids were still encouraging people to pay attention to the Shop With A Cop charity. Karen recognized the potential of the hashtag and used it in her Facebook posts, both to keep her followers up to date with the lemonade stand and to raise further awareness of the Ames charity fund.
Time For Rest
By this point, people all over Ames and other parts of the state were flocking to visit the now-famous lemonade stand. Elias and Katelyn had so many customers sampling the lemonade that they could barely keep up. Eventually, Elias told his mother that his "back hurt so bad from sitting on that chair without a back for three days!"
Karen knew immediately that the twins needed a well-deserved break, so they packed up the lemonade stand for the time being. "The lemonade stand will not open today," she declared to her Facebook followers. "These kids are exhausted, and we declare today a mental health recovery day!"
For now, the lemonade stand was temporarily out of action, but it didn’t stop Karen and the kids from wanting to continue their charitable endeavors. And so they chose to set up a ‘virtual lemonade stand,’ which would allow followers to donate to the cause through Venmo.
To their surprise, word of their virtual stand spread across the world, and plenty of strangers turned out to show their support. "Oh….my…GOODNESS!!!! People are SO SO SO GOOD!!!" Karen wrote. "Thank you all for being part of this amazing show of support and showing so many how good always wins!!"
For the next few days, Elias and Katelyn got some much-needed r&r, watching television on the couch while their mother tracked the virtual lemonade stands progress. But during this time they also took another step in their fundraising journey, even though the stand was still closed.
They decided to deposit all of their lemonade savings in a bank account to ensure they couldn't be stolen again. Karen took to Facebook to share the development. "Today, the kids opened a Pay it Forward bank account at Great Western Bank and deposited the cash from the corner stand!"
An Overwhelming Number
For the first time, the small family was able to pool all of the funds, both physically and virtually, together. And it was much more than they could have expected… almost $5000! "We thought $5k was a crazy number, but you have shown us it's possible, and it just keeps going up!" Karen exclaimed on Facebook.
With The Pumpkin Ranch offering to match their donations, it was looking to be a substantial amount. And sure enough, they hit the 5k mark. "Because of each of you, together, as a team, we are over $5K in donations to Shop with a Cop!" Karen declared. It was an unprecedented success, but the Smidts weren't planning to stop there.
"Ames makes Lemon-ade"
They wanted to take their already successful fundraiser to the next level, so they began selling "Ames lemonade" merchandise! This included shirts, sweaters, coffee mugs, hats, and more! Prices averaged at around $19, and were decorated with images of lemons and the words "when life hands you lemons, AMES makes lemon-ade."
This latest fundraiser push was just as successful, in large part due to Karen's marketing. "If you love swag to commemorate events, allow yourself to feel the hug that AMES gives when you order a shirt or coffee mug!" she shared. "We have many people believing we will get to $10k! Perhaps the swag will be what gets us there?!?!?"
A Big Day In Ames
Finally, after four months of fundraising and campaigning since the #lemonaderobbery incident, Karen and the twins were finally ready to present the charity with the check they had worked so hard for. "Today was THE day!! THE day we have been waiting for since the #lemonaderobbery!" Karen shared on Facebook.
"We were able to present the check to the Shop with a Cop program," she continued. "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!"
An Important Lesson
Remember the old saying, 'when life hands you lemons, make lemonade?' Well, there is no doubt that that is exactly what the Smidt family has done. They took what started as a horrible situation and turned it into something beautiful, showing countless strangers how much a community could do when they came together.
"What…a….lesson!!!" Karen shared with thousands of online readers. "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."