Through the end of July, servers, bartenders and hosts at the Applebee’s in Trexlertown will be out of their regular uniform.
Instead, each has donned an Alex’s Lemonade Stand t-shirt to promote the month-long fundraising they are doing to raise money for children’s cancer.
The big difference between this year’s fundraiser, and the first fundraiser held by Newton-based Rose Group-owned Applebee’s in 2005, is that now it’s a national phenomenon.
Similar shirts are being worn by employees of more than 1,000 Applebee’s restaurants around the country as the small regional promotion has grown to one that is run by Applebee’s franchises from coast to coast.
“It’s amazing to me how much it’s grown in the past 13 years,” said Kim Beers, assistant general manager of the Trexlertown Applebee’s. “If you had told me then that stores in California would know about Alex’s, I wouldn’t have believed you. But now they do.”
Cathy Chuck, vice president of marketing and public relations for the Rose Group, which has 56 Applebee franchises, including all of those in the Greater Lehigh Valley, said the start of the promotion was quite interesting.
It was shortly after the death of Alexandra Scott, the girl who started the foundation by raising $2,000 running a lemonade stand in front of her Connecticut home. Her mother, Liz Scott, began reaching out to corporations to support her efforts to keep the Lemonade Stand fund going.
“The Rose Group was one of the first companies she contacted,” Chuck said. “And we were also among the first on board.”
Joining the 56 Applebee’s restaurants owned by the Rose Group was a New Jersey-based franchise group known as Applebee’s American Group. The two franchisees were the first to run the promotions.
INSPIRED TO HELP
Beers was there from the beginning and an active participant in fundraising.
“I have two children of my own,” she said.
The strength and selflessness she saw in Alexandra Scott inspired her to do whatever she could to help raise money to fight cancer so other children wouldn’t have the same fate.
Beers wasn’t alone. She said she received an enthusiastic response from all of her staff, many creating their own ways to raise money and eagerly volunteering time outside of work hours to help.
“My staff has been incredible. They say let’s paint faces. Let’s put on a car wash. They volunteer to work the lemonade stand,” Beer said.
MAKING A STAND
Yes, there really is a lemonade stand that the staff places out front and brings to events. Beers can even show you how to make one.
The stand has been a success.
“Some people drive by, see it and pull over to make a donation. They’re not even eating here,” she said.
Of course, regular diners are a large part of the support, as well.
“Some of our regulars look forward to it,” Beers said. “They wait to make their donation with us because they like what we’re doing here.”
WALL OF SUPPORT
All of the participating Applebee’s franchises now have similar promotions. They sell paper lemons for $1 so people can write on them and hang them on the fundraising wall to show support.
There is also a $5 card they can sign and hang, and the restaurant gives the donor a coupon for a free lemonade or children’s meal.
Also, 25 cents of every lemonade sold in the restaurant in July goes to the foundation.
$7M RAISED NATIONALLY
Word of the popularity of the fundraisers moved up the corporate chain of command, and soon other franchisees joined the promotion with the full support of Applebee’s headquarters.
With the nationwide participation, Applebee’s contributions have grown dramatically.
Since it began the fundraiser a dozen years ago, Rose Group-owned Applebee’s have raised more than $3.5 million – nearly $247,000 of which are from Greater Lehigh Valley restaurants.
With the help of the other nearly 1,000 restaurants, the total amount raised has now exceeded $7 million.
Chuck said the goal among the franchisee groups is to raise $1 million for the charity this year.
‘IT’S JUST SOMETHING GREAT TO DO’
For Beers and her staff, it’s a labor of love.
“I never really thought twice about putting in the extra time,” she said. “I don’t even really think about it as part of my job. It’s just something great to do.”
The Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation fundraiser at the Greater Lehigh Valley Applebee’s locations runs through July 30.