Somonauk students celebrate year of helping cancer patients

In March, Somonauk Middle School fifth-grader Evelyn Hentschel shaved her head to help raise money for cancer with St. Baldrick’s.

On Friday, May 20, Hentschel and the students of Somonauk Middle School celebrated both the end of the school year and the end of their year-long fundraising efforts for Lemons of Love (LOL), a nonprofit organization based in Des Plaines that creates care packages for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy treatments.

“I shaved my head because my grandma had cancer,” Hentschel said. “I did it in honor of her. Cancer and chemotherapy is really terrifying for me, it must have been even scarier for her. I want to do everything I can to support my grandma and other people with cancer.”

In previous years, Somonauk Middle School focused on one of the six pillars of Character Counts: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring or citizenship. This year, a Community Counts Committee was formed and selected Lemons of Love as its yearly service project.

“We were looking for a local nonprofit, one that would tie in with the community,” Principal Justin Snider said. “We didn’t want to send the money far away. Cancer affects our community. ... We wanted to help the students become productive citizens and to value community service.”

On the last day of classes, students were recognized for their achievements inside and outside the classroom with an awards ceremony. At the end of the ceremony, LOL founder Jill Swanson Peltier accepted a large $562.24 check for the money raised during the school’s penny drive. Ben Mullineaux, a social worker with KishHealth System, collected LOL care packages to deliver to the hospital’s cancer centers in Sandwich and DeKalb.

A yellow ribbon was cut to symbolize the start of Lemon Fest, a school-wide celebration of their fundraising efforts. During the event students had their faces painted, ate lemon cookies, drank lemonade, had balloon animals made and made bracelets and cards to take home or to give to chemotherapy patients. Lemon Fest also included music, card games, a dunk tank and a silly photo booth.

Students also could sit inside Calypso Lemonade, Fall-Line Motorsports’ Porsche 911 Carrera GT3.

“Lemon Fest was a way for the entire middle school to come together, to have fun and celebrate,” Snider said. “It was the first time that we had an organization’s founder to come, talk and celebrate with us.”

Peltier founded LOL after going through chemotherapy treatments in April 2014 to combat stage 3 colon cancer. The nonprofit’s name comes from the saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

“My first chemo treatment was nine-and-a-half hours long with eight drugs going into my port,” Peltier said. “I didn’t know what to do, and I was afraid. I saw that there were some people there alone. They were picked up and dropped off by a Pace bus. I wanted to communicate with them, and the best way to communicate is with a gift.”

“The money raised doesn’t go to cancer research, it goes to make people happy,” she said. “They make people so happy, and that’s why I keep doing it. Receiving a chemo care package changes their mood for the whole day.”

Since its founding in 2014, nearly 2,000 LOL chemo care packages have been created.

Each package has approximately $75 worth of items including lemon drops, organic ginger tea for upset stomachs, lemon-scented lotion for dry skin, chocolate-covered blueberries, superhero socks, handmade cards and pictures drawn by children. When hand-delivered, the packages come in handmade tote bags. Care packages are also boxed and kept at cancer treatment centers for distribution.

During the school year, Somonauk students also participated in the motivational program Today I Can Do Anything (TICDA). Every care package made by Somonauk Middle School, includes a TICDA wristband.

“The kids get to see both Lemons of Love and TICDA come together, and they’re proud of it,” Snider said. “It’s definitely a motivator.”

Peltier said Somonauk Middle School was the first school to adopt LOL as a fundraising project and she is thankful for all of their help.

“The school has really made a difference,” Peltier said. “They collected items for the care packages and they fundraised by collecting pennies. They have such a positive effect. They really made a difference with Lemons of Love and on their entire community.

“They learned how to give back and help others, which they’ll take with them for life. I wish every school did something like this,” she said.

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