lemonade stand charity stolen
Karen Hatting Smidt via Facebook

Woman Runs Off With Kids’ Lemonade Stand Money, Leads to Striking Reaction

Stories

| LAST UPDATE 07/26/2022

By Georgina White

Katelyn and Elias Smidt were so excited to be making a few extra bucks selling lemonade… that was, until a stranger approached them and did the unthinkable. Here's how the twins turned an awful act into a touching exchange.

The Start of It All

It's a standard experience for nearly every child growing up in the 'burbs… Lemonade stands are a must-have for hot summer days and provide endless fun for the kids running them. But that's not all they provide.

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Instagram via @curiouserandcuriouserblog

On top of it all, aside from some allowance and the odd $20 bill from the grandparents, it's the first chance that kids have at making some cash to store in their piggy bank! That is, unless someone was to steal all their hard-earned money. And as luck had it, that would happen to two unsuspecting kids.

Meet Elias & Katelyn

Our story starts with Katelyn and Elias Smidt, a pair of nine-year-old twins from the town of Ames, Iowa. After seeing their friends enjoy the benefits of a lemonade stand, these curious siblings began begging their mother for a chance of their own.

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Karen Hatting Smidt via Facebook

Katelyn and Elias's mom, named Karen, eventually caved and helped her kids chase their dream. They set up shop right at the end of the yard to ensure she could keep an eye on them while they sold their product in the safe, suburban neighborhood. But she wasn't expecting what came next...

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In It for the Experience

While many kids try to turn their summer stand into a profitable venture, the opposite could be said about Elias and Katelyn. The twins weren't in it for the cash - they just wanted to experience the thrill of having their own stand. In fact, they actually didn't even charge money for the lemonade!

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Karen Hatting Smidt via Facebook

They did, however, place a little jar if any neighbors were so inclined to leave a little tip to show their appreciation for the summertime refreshment. And while the twins weren't expecting it, they started to see the jar fill up with each passing visitor - it was certainly unexpected but appreciated.

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Tallying Up the Tips

The twins sat excitedly at their little stand, waiting for their friendly Ames neighbors to pass by on the sidewalk. When someone did, they enthusiastically offered a refreshing glass of lemonade free of charge. And while people appreciated the charity, they returned the good deed with whatever cash they had on them.

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YouTube via WBNS 10TV

No more than half a day passed before Elias and Katelyn couldn't hold their excitement any longer. They desperately wanted to know how much they'd made in tips up until that point and asked their mom for some number crunching assistance. They worked out that they'd earned over $100 on their first day!

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Unexpected Visitor

All the initial worries Karen had about this summer activity melted away. "We've had so many amazing people stop by," she wrote on Facebook, thanking her fellow neighbors for their kind support. Little did she know, something was about to happen that would change her perspective entirely.

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Instagram via @xoyssim

It all started when a black car stopped by the lemonade stand, and a lady began approaching the twins. Could it be a customer from a different neighborhood? The twins didn't think much of it, until their exciting day was flipped on its head at a moment's notice.

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Mother's Guilt

With her kids comfortably situated at their stand, Karen took the opportunity to duck back into the house and whip up some more refreshments for her kids. She didn't think much of it, trusting that her kids could handle the stand for a few moments alone.

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YouTube via WBNS 10TV

However, looking back, Karen's timing couldn't have been poorer, and she wondered if she could have changed the outcome if she'd just stayed with her kids a few minutes longer. Instead, Katelyn and Elias were on their own as they experienced a fateful visit at their stand.

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The Cruel Act

But hey, hindsight is 20/20, and at the time, neither the kids nor their mother expected anything bad was coming their way. The woman approached the stand and was greeted with a smile from the twins, with Katelyn offering a glass of lemonade. She accepted, and the siblings began getting the drink together.

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Karen Hatting Smidt via Facebook

Distracted by the task at hand, Elias and Katelyn weren't watching the tip jar closely, and the mysterious woman used the opportunity to grab the tip jar and dart back into the passenger's seat of her car, which sped off into the distance. She left with the twin's jar of cash, which at this point was practically full.

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The Aftermath

It all happened so fast. But eventually, Katelyn and Elias realized what had happened. It was the furthest outcome they had imagined when they opened their stand. And what started as a fun summer activity quickly turned into a nightmare for the poor kids.

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YouTube via WBNS 10TV

Karen came back to see her two kids in tears, and she listened as they shared the heart-breaking experience. She tried her best to console them, but her mind was racing with what she could do to possibly rectify the situation. How could someone do this to two innocent kids?

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Bouncing Back

But to Karen's surprise, her children bounced back on their own. After letting the tears flow, Katelyn and Elias got back to their stand to continue on with what, up until recently, had been a fantastic summer's day. Karen beamed with pride at her kids' ability to shake it off.

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Karen Hatting Smidt via Facebook

"The kids could have easily shut the stand down," the proud mom gushed on Facebook. "They chose to stay open and continue serving lemonade to the MANY MANY good people in this community. They didn't allow one bad apple ruin the day for many. Instead, they found their smiles back and put smiles on the faces of many more."

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An Emotional Parent

While Katelyn and Elias bounced back, Karen was reeling from what her children had experienced. She was experiencing so many emotions: heartbreak, pride, concern, and many more. But she watched her kids smile and continue on with their day. What could she do to help them?

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YouTube via WBNS 10TV

Despite the one "bad apple," Karen knew her neighborhood was filled with kind souls - so she turned to them for advice. She explained the situation and looked for suggestions on what to do next. Little did she know how much the community would step up to the plate for the twins...

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What Next?

For starters, the Smidt mom got a fair amount of advice on how to handle the situation. And many neighbors believed the first step involved a call to local law enforcement. After all, with the woman out there with the tips, what was to stop her from doing it again to more unexpecting kids?

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Karen Hatting Smidt via Facebook

But it wasn't so easy for the twins' mom to jump on board with the plan. She didn't imagine she had much valuable information to pass on to the officers seeing as she'd been inside when the incident took place. With no description of the woman or identifying details from the car, what information did they have to go off?

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Breaking the News

Despite her hesitations, Karen decided to listen to her neighbors and reach out to the local police department. The protective mother gave them the little information she had. But the officers, looking to fill in the pieces, asked to speak with the victims themselves: Katelyn and Elias.

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Instagram via @iowadonornetwork

Worried about asking too much from her already traumatized children, Karen was understandably nervous. But once again, her kids stepped up. "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," the mom gushed online.

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An Unexpected Response

Karen's hopes weren't high for anything to come out of the police report filing. So it's easy to understand how blown away she was by what came next. Not only did the officer open a file on the incident and promise a follow-up, but the Ames Police Department also took things to the next level.

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Karen Hatting Smidt via Facebook

As it turned out, Katelyn and Elias's story had touched a lot of officers down at the department station. And together, they got to thinking about what they could do more to help the victims of this malicious incident. Apparently, there was another way to help besides the investigation...

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One Officer Stood Out

This would turn out to be quite the community effort, but one Ames officer really went above and beyond in order to help the kids: officer Celena Rohland. After listening to the twins share their heartbreaking story, she knew she'd do anything she could to help these innocent kids.

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YouTube via WBNS 10TV

"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," the caring cop explained to WBNS 10TV. And she got the ball rolling by heading over to the lemonade stand herself.

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Making the Twins' Day

Determined to make a difference, officer Rohland pulled up to the Smidt residence and was greeted by two beaming smiles coming from both Katelyn and Elias. "She was absolutely phenomenal with Katelyn," the astounded mother recalled when speaking with The Ames Tribune.

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Karen Hatting Smidt via Facebook

The troubles of earlier that day melted away as Katelyn and Elias excitedly prepared a glass of lemonade for their honored guest. Not only did her visit lift their spirits tremendously, but she also left a tip as well! And that was just the start of how the day would soon turn around...

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"You Just Can't Even Describe It"

The excitement that came from Officer Rohland's visit had barely worn off before Katelyn and Elias received a brand new surprise before their very eyes. It seemed as though Celena's message to her coworkers had really done the trick, as a hoard of officers had now formed a line at the lemonade stand!

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Karen Hatting Smidt via Facebook

"The look on my kids' faces was... you just can't even describe it," Karen emotionally recounted during her chat with The Ames Tribune. But the community kindness wasn't done yet - members from other state departments started rolling up to show their support as well.

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Flooded with Generosity

"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! The look on our kids' faces was priceless," Mrs. Smidt shared online.

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Karen Hatting Smidt via Facebook

"There are not enough words of gratitude at this point!! Our lemonade stand was FLOODED with so much generosity today!" the mom continued to gush on her Facebook post. It was the best possible outcome for the mom, even if she was worried about her lemonade supply!

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The Best Outcome

Sure, the crowd and subsequent tips were great, but the impact that the officers had on Katelyn and Elias couldn't be measured by a dollar value. Rather, they helped the twins recover from their traumatic incident and reminded them that there are good people out in the world.

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Karen Hatting Smidt via Facebook

And it was clear as day on the kids' faces. In Karen's eyes, they really bounced back from the theft. "Our kids went from scared and unsure how to trust the next person... to wide-eyed, smiling, and so excited," the twins' mom explained to Fox News when talking about the positive experience with the officers.

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A Community Effort

Fully rebounded from the unfortunate incident from earlier, Katelyn and Elias regained their love and excitement for the lemonade stand. "It chokes me up to see these kids as happy as they are right now. That's what it's about. Taking care of our community," Kyle Dirks explained to KCCI News.

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Karen Hatting Smidt via Facebook

Now seasoned lemonade stand workers, Katelyn and Elias had learned a thing or two about how they wanted to run their stand. While it had started out as a fun summer's day activity, the twins realized that they could turn it into something much bigger. And they were inspired by their neighbors.

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Switching Gears

However, some things remained the same. Elias and Katelyn still wanted to give a free glass of lemonade to anyone who stopped by with the option to leave a tip. But instead of collecting the profits, they wanted to pay the good deed forward and keep the momentum of kindness going.

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Karen Hatting Smidt via Facebook

It took some brainstorming, but they eventually zoned in on a charity they both agreed upon. And the inspiration came from the crowd of friendly officers that had taken the time out of their schedules to put their day back on track and bring them some serious smiles...

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Returning the Favor

They ended up choosing 'Shop with a Cop,' an organization that was started in 1994 with a goal to help children of disadvantaged backgrounds. The Ames Police Foundation founded the charity and it's mainly active during the holiday season when cops get paired up with children in the community for a day filled with shopping.

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Facebook via Ames Police Department

"Officers and their special young guests will head off to Target via CyRide for a morning of shopping, eating, gift wrapping, and fun," explained the website. The twins donated to 'Shop with a Cop' as a way to repay them and the community for all they do.

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Going Viral

The heartwarming story instantly caught the attention of many people around the twin's community. As the word spread about the wholesome lemonade stand, it eventually ended up falling into the lap of a few different news stations that reached out to Karen.

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Karen Hatting Smidt via Facebook

Karen and the kids were excited to share their stories and shed light on their charity with KKCI News and We Are Iowa Local 5 News. Then suddenly, a few national news stations wanted to cover the story! Bobby Bones detailed it in his segment Tell Me Something Good, and CBS Sunday Morning broadcasted a short clip of the twins.

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Updating Viewers

Just as many viral stories do, this one got its very own hashtag. It didn't take long before #lemonaderobbery was being used by many different people. Some just wanted their friends and family to read the wholesome story, while others advocated for the charity.

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Karen Hatting Smidt via Facebook

The hashtag was also a way for followers to keep up with Karen and her updates regarding her kid's lemonade stand. That way, people were able to see when they could come to get lemonade and be kept up to date with the charity's work. With every new post, Karen felt more thankful for the audience she had gained.

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A Mental Health Day

Despite the constant support, the twins decided it might be time for a much-deserved break. After pouring dozens of cups of lemonade and waiting in the heat, they were tired! Elias confessed to his mom that his "back hurt so bad from sitting on that chair without a back for three days!" 

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Karen Hatting Smidt via Facebook

Together they came to the conclusion to close up shop for a bit. Karen posted on her social media, "The lemonade stand will not open today. These kids are exhausted, and we declare today a mental health recovery day!" Instantly their followers on Facebook supported their decision.

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Virtual Lemomade Stand

During their break, the twins and Karen thought about how they still wanna help their community. And luckily, they could do so in the comfort of their own homes! They created a 'virtual lemonade stand' where people can continue donating to the charity through Venmo.

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Karen Hatting Smidt via Facebook

It seemed it was all working out because there were many people sending money to the cause. Karen was overwhelmed by the positive responses, "Oh....my....GOODNESS!!!! People are SO SO SO GOOD!!! Thank you all for being part of this amazing show of support and showing so many how good always wins!!" she said.

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New Idea

The people donating inspired them yet again to get back up and work! After the twins rested, they were ready to get things going again. Except not in the same way they had before…instead of opening up the lemonade stand, the twins had thought of a better idea.

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Karen Hatting Smidt via Facebook

Katelyn and Elias approached the mom and asked her if they could open up their very own bank account to secure their earnings. "Today, the kids opened a Pay it Forward bank account at Great Western Bank and deposited the cash from the corner stand!" Karen gushed about her kids to her Facebook followers.

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"Crazy" Progress

As more people sent money to the Venmo account, Karen realized they were about to reach a grand total of $5,000. She was in disbelief. "We thought $5k was a crazy number, but you have shown us it's possible, and it just keeps going up!" It was even more exciting because the Pumpkin Patch said they would match their earnings up to 5K!

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Karen Hatting Smidt via Facebook

She shared the great news with her followers. "Because of each of you, together, as a team, we are over $5K in donations to Shop with a Cop!" The family was so happy they had reached their goal, but they also knew that if they kept going, they could continue making a change in their community.

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Online Business Ventures

Karen and the kids weren't done just because they had reached $5K - they wanted to raise more money for the charity. They came up with the idea to sell merch for fans to buy. This included shirts, sweaters, toys, and more that read "when life hands you lemons, AMES makes lemon-ade." Everything was priced at around $19. 

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Karen Hatting Smidt via Facebook

"If you love swag to commemorate events, allow yourself to feel the hug that AMES gives when you order a shirt or coffee mug! We have many people believing we will get to $10k! Perhaps the swag will be what gets us there?!?!?" she wrote. All the items quickly began to sell out!

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The Big Day

Finally, after months and months of hard work, Karen and the twins revealed that the big day was here. They were going to give all the money to donate to the charity they chose. "Today was THE day!! THE day we have been waiting for since the #lemonaderobbery!" Karen excitedly shared with her Facebook followers.

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Karen Hatting Smidt via Facebook

"We were able to present the check to the Shop with a Cop program," Karen gushed. "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!"

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Life Lesson

The entire lemonade stand helped the twins learn a valuable lesson. Their experience with the community and the 'Shop with a Cop' charity helped them understand the meaning behind the term 'when life hands you lemons, make lemonade.' Moreover, they inspired others to reach out to strangers with a helping hand.

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Karen Hatting Smidt via Facebook

"What…a….lesson!!!" Karen wrote to her Facebook followers. "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."

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