More than a year after the death "Baby Gio" Torres, the late infant's family and their friends on Lawton Road in Riverside gathered last Friday to remember him and to sell lemonade in support of childhood cancer research. Lemonade sales and additional online donations amounted to $4,691.43.
Jennifer Veselsky and her daughter, Amber Kobela, organized the event through Alex's Lemonade Stand, a foundation for the funding of childhood cancer research. Kobela said that the event honored her son, Giovanni "Gio" Torres, who died of cancer in early 2017 after turning 1 year old.
"Since [Gio] passed and even beforehand, we've donated to Lurie Children's Hospital, St. Jude's, St. Baldrick's and we just wanted to switch it up," Kobela said. "My little brother and the neighbors have done lemonade stands frequently and we thought why not have something big and donate to a good cause in memory of Baby Gio."
The lemonade stand ran from 2 to 8 p.m. and the organizers set a goal of $2,000, but surpassed the mark two and a half hours into the event. Lemonade cost one dollar per cup and several donations of $50 or more were made.
With the help of other families on Lawton Road, Veselsky and Kobela planned the event two weeks prior. Even former Chicago Bears quarterback, Jim McMahon, a friend of Veselsky, showed his support for the fundraiser and asked people donate to the Alex's Lemonade Stand on Twitter.
Neighbors helped out by purchasing lemonade, lending canopy tents and building the lemonade stand. Veselsky also ordered shirts that read "Lawton Road Kids Against Childhood Cancer" to pass around to the 27 neighboring children who helped out.
"The Lawton crew has gotten quite close," neighbor Bethany DeCola said. "We have about nine couples and we all support each other through our trials and tribulations of life and kids, and we support each other as adults; because of that, we come together as a community."
The children wore yellows tutus and headbands, hung yellow balloons in the trees and rang cowbells to grab potential customers' attention. One customer happened to be Riverside Police Officer Chris Kudla, who is fighting cancer himself.
"It's awesome seeing what [the kids are] doing and the cause they're trying to raise [money] for … it hits home for me very personally," Kudla said.
DeCola said it was important that the Lawton children learn about the purpose of Alex's Lemonade Stand. She said the foundation provides a book for children to explain why it started.
"It's not just about selling lemonade," DeCola said. "It's about life and about how we need to cherish every day and what's important and that's family, friends, health and being a community."
Other movements, including #GoGoldForGio on social media, is used to remember Gio and garner support for childhood cancer research. For the second year in a row, Kobela and others will represent #GoGoldForGio and march in the Brookfield Fourth of July Parade.
To donate in support of childhood cancer research or to honor Gio, go to www.alexslemonade.org/mypage/1461283.