Jessica Engfer (right), with support from her sister Julia (left) and their friend Nell Kerndt (center), places the $9,000 lemon marker on the Project Lemon-Aid Tree at the project's celebration at Virginia Avenue Park on Friday afternoon. The grassroots fundraiser was created to help support the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, which is struggling with a budget deficit. (photo by Brandon Wise)

VIRGINIA AVE. PARK — These are not your grandmother’s lemonade stands.

Complete with a corporate sponsor, their own custom T-shirts and a Facebook page, the kids responsible for Project Lemon-aid are taking the concept of a curbside stand and turning it into a fundraising force to be reckoned with.

Since the project was launched two weeks ago by a group of first-graders who attend Franklin Elementary School as a way to raise money for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, it’s blossomed into a full-blown movement.

So far, kids and their parents have held 36 lemonade stands on neighborhood street corners from Pico Boulevard to Montana Avenue, raising a staggering $9,633 for local schools.

The money was handed over to the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation at a ceremony on Friday afternoon at Virginia Avenue Park.

Underscoring the district’s difficulties, the event was held on what would have been the last day of the school year, if the school board hadn’t had to cut five days of instruction because of lower state funding for education.

Instead, SMMUSD students have been at home for a week, and a growing number of them have used their extra time off to raise money for the school district, which recently cut $7.1 million from its budget and laid off 58 teachers.

The Project Lemon-aid money will add to the total brought in by the education foundation during the “Save Our Schools” campaign, which is aiming to raise enough money to save some teachers’ jobs next school year.

“Santa Monica is a special place and our kids are special kids. We are truly a community,” said Jennifer Krieger, a parent who helped spur interest in the lemonade stand fundraiser.

For kids involved, it’s been an enjoyable way to pitch in.

“It was fun and a little bit challenging,” said Devon Newberry, a fourth grader at Franklin who spent last Saturday working at a stand.

Attracting customers — some of whom left generous donations on top of the cost of cookies and lemonade — hasn’t been a problem. “People kept coming and coming and coming,” Newberry said.

Parent leaders of Project Lemon-aid hope their impressive haul so far is just the beginning. Krieger said she and other parents are planning to keep the lemonade stands going throughout the summer.

On Friday, Menchies Frozen Yogurt, which has a location on Montana Avenue, announced it would donate 20 percent of proceeds from sales in the month of July to the education foundation when customers mention Project Lemon-aid. Hot Dog on a Stick, with an outpost near the Santa Monica Pier, sent a team member on Friday to give the kids who have participated in the fundraiser a coupon for a free lemonade.

nickt@www.smdp.com

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