LEWISTON — They came in droves, with cash, with cards, with blessings.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” said one woman, dropping a fistful of change into Takota Pelletier’s hand.

“God bless you,” said a man, handing over several dollar bills and politely refusing lemonade in return.

“I think you’re doing a wonderful thing,” said another woman, handing 10-year-old Takota an envelope. Inside: a $50 gift certificate to Mr. Paperback for Takota, a $70 donation in the memory of Takota’s best friend, Taylor McQueeney, and a letter.   

“I was very proud to read about you and your lemonade stand this morning,” the letter said. “For me, your story is a shining light for the future, with you bringing some good out of the tragic loss of your friend.”

On Tuesday morning, Takota had set up a lemonade stand to raise money to help the family of her 9-year-old best friend, who died in a River Street apartment fire early Monday morning. Takota had hoped to make $20. She dreamed of making $100.

By Wednesday afternoon, the day her story appeared in the Sun Journal, she had raised about $500, with the promise of $250 more.

“It makes me really proud and happy,” Takota said as a line started to form at the tiny table she set up in her front yard. “It’s surprising that so many people are coming.”

Takota and Taylor were together in the third grade at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston. Best friends, they told secrets on the playground, shared animal 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 bullies.

With school out for the summer, the pair last saw each other about a month ago when Taylor and her family were walking to a nearby grocery store. They only got the chance to say a brief hello.

Takota learned Monday that Taylor had been killed in a fire while spending the night with relatives. 

To help her grieving daughter, Takota’s mother suggested she lead a fundraiser for the family. Takota seized on the idea. With another friend, Taylor Ward, Takota mixed up packets of lemonade and set up a 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 family.” She sold the lemonade for 25 cents a cup.

That first morning she made $2.51. By that evening she’d earned $47. 

By Wednesday afternoon, she was so busy accepting donations that she didn’t have a chance to stop and count the money. Cash — from small change to $100 bills — was coming in too fast. Some donors didn’t even get out of their cars. 

“No lemonade, thank you,” said one woman, leaning out her car window to hand Takota a $20 bill. “I just want to give you money.”

Takota and Taylor’s school librarian stopped by with money and a hug. A local Denny’s worker dropped off a donation and vowed she’d be back with more from her co-workers. One woman drove from Brunswick to donate — and returned later with her husband so he could donate, too.

The Rev. Doug Taylor invited Takota and her friends to make lemonade for Friday night’s Jesus Party children’s gathering. He offered to supply the mix and sugar and to give a $250 donation to the McQueeney family’s funeral fund in Takota’s name. 

“It’s great; $250,” Takota said. “Taylor deserves it.”

And then there were the cards, including one with $20 and a long, handwritten note for Takota.

“Be strong when you start school next week,” it said. “Taylor will always be with you as long as you carry her in your heart.”

The attention made Takota proud but also sad. Every donation was a reminder that Taylor had died.

Takota used to talk about becoming a veterinarian, an architect or a police officer when she grew up. Since Taylor’s death, she’s added firefighter to the list. 

“It made me realize I could save little kids like that. Or try to,” she said.

On Wednesday, she pressed forward, accepting donations, pouring lemonade and offering a smile and a thank-you to every “God bless you.” When a woman dropped off some food, Takota started a food drive for the families left homeless by the apartment fire.

As cash donations rolled in, Takota and her mother considered the best way to distribute the money. A fund has been set up to help the McQueeney family pay for Taylor’s funeral, and the donations could be sent there or given to the family member raising Taylor’s siblings. Takota and her mother are considering both options, as well as donating some of the money to the American Red Cross, which is helping the families displaced by the fire.

They also talked about what Takota would do with the $50 gift card to Mr. Paperback. Without a car, Takota’s mother vowed to get her there by cab if necessary.

“I want to buy more animal books, just to remember Taylor,” Takota said.

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