LEWISTON — Taylor McQueeney and Takota Pelletier were the kind of friends who took care of each other. Told secrets on the playground. Shared books in the school library and talked about what they wanted to be when they grew up. 

Taylor lifted Takota’s spirits. Takota protected Taylor from the third-grade bullies.

“She sometimes got in fights and I’d break them up so she didn’t get hurt,” Takota said.

Takota, however, couldn’t protect her friend from everything. In the wee hours of Monday morning, 9-year-old Taylor died in a River Street apartment fire. Takota was horrified and grief-stricken.

“Especially how she died,” said Takota, 10. “She didn’t deserve to die.”

On Tuesday, a day after Taylor’s death, Takota found a way to help her best friend one more time. She set up a lemonade stand to raise money for Taylor’s family.

“I want to help her family — just help support them,” Takota said. 

By 10 a.m. Tuesday, Takota had raised $2.51 selling 25-cent cups of Kool-Aid lemonade from her small front yard. She hoped to make at least $20. Her dream: $100.

Depending on the weather, she planned to keep selling Wednesday.

Takota and Taylor were classmates at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston. With school out for the summer, Takota last saw Taylor about a month ago as Taylor and her family
walked to a nearby grocery store. Taylor’s parents were in a rush, so
the girls didn’t get a chance to talk. 

“We just said hi,” Takota remembered.  

Takota learned about Taylor’s death Monday night. Her mother had heard rumors all day that a child named Taylor had died in the River Street blaze, but Teresa Pelletier held off telling her daughter. She didn’t want to upset Takota unnecessarily.

Then the evening news confirmed it. 

“She was like, ‘No, Taylor! No, Taylor!’ She just lost it,” Pelletier said.

Trying to calm her daughter, to find an outlet for her grief, Pelletier suggested she lead a fundraiser. Takota pounced on the idea. She’d made $17 with an orange juice stand earlier this summer. She thought she could do it again, this time with lemonade. This time for Taylor.

With another friend, Taylor Ward, Takota mixed a pitcher of lemonade and set up a small plastic table outside her home at the corner of Pine and Bradley streets. She covered the table with signs she designed with markers and lined notebook paper. On one, she drew two small figures with yellow hair, labeling them Taylor and Takota and writing, “We loved to read
together.”  On another she wrote
“Please help. My best friend died in fire. Please donate money for her

Takota’s first customer gave her $1 for a cup of lemonade, four times her asking price. Others dropped change in her donation container and politely declined a drink in return. 

Some people walked past with barely a glance at her table. Takota’s mother called them rude. Takota, however, didn’t seem to notice. She was too busy talking about Taylor.  

“We had our ups and downs, but we were really close friends,” she said. 

[email protected]

A fund has been established to help the McQueeney family pay for 9-year-old Taylor McQueeney’s funeral arrangements. Donations can be sent to: Taylor McQueeney Fund, Rainbow Federal Credit Union, 391 Main St., Lewiston, ME 04243-0741

Takota Pelletier, 10, left, waits for customers at the lemonade stand she set up at her home on Pine Street in Lewiston on Tuesday to help raise money for the family of her classmate, Taylor McQueeney, who died in a fire early Monday morning in Lewiston. At right is Pelletier’s sister, Baronica Pelletier-Boisvert, 2.

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