On Saturday, February 16, Benton Stevens, a seven-year-old boy in Austin, Texas, raised $5,000 by selling hot chocolate. Stevens put the proceeds towards building President Trump’s wall along the US-Mexico border.
Little did Benton know, his neighborhood hot chocolate stand would spark a fire in two young Bay Area activists, Lily Ellis, age 10, and Lauren Jones, age nine. After seeing the viral video of Benton Stevens, Lily and Lauren “went back up to Lily’s room and then came down with an idea,” said Lauren’s mother, Jenny Jones.
“I didn’t agree with what the little boy in Texas was raising money for, so Lauren and I decided to do a hot chocolate stand for the opposite reason,” said Lily.
A couple of days after their first fundraiser in front of Freight & Salvage, the two had raised well over $5,000 selling Mexican hot chocolate and churros. The proceeds went to RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services), a nonprofit organization in Texas which provides free legal assistance to immigrant families, children, and refugees to promote justice.
“[Lily and Lauren’s] main focus was to help the children that were in the detention camps who were separated from their parents,” said Jenny. In 2018 alone, there were over 3,000 reported children separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border, according to The New York Times. Some of these children were infants under one year old who were separated and “locked up in cages,” as Lauren put it.
“How do you think Trump would feel if his 13-year-old son was sent away from him? Would he like that? No. But he is still building the wall and separating families. RAICES is trying to let all the kids free and back with their parents,” said Lauren.
It seems hundreds of people agreed with Lily and Lauren on this issue; the line at their first fundraiser was 15 people long at one point. Both girls had not expected their neighborhood hot chocolate stand to blow up into a full scale community fundraising event, however, within a few hours it seemed they had a whole group of people supporting them.
Both Lily and Lauren grew up in families that participated in activism, and while both families never pushed their daughters to be full fledged activists, they believed that “what is important in the household is often percolating in the children,” as Zoe Ellis, Lily’s mom explained. Lily’s grandparents were prominent civil rights activists; Lauren’s grandfather was a Brown Beret from Mexico, and Lauren’s father is the senior director of the Boys and Girls Club of the peninsula. “Lily grew up in a family where you were allowed to have a voice and opinion very early,” said Zoe. Jenny added, “Lily and Lauren talk about being global citizens, and not just US citizens.”
So, when Lily and Lauren came up with their idea of the fundraiser, their families and their communities were behind it and ready to help, including Lauren and Lily’s best friends. “We really believe in this cause, to reunite families, and the fundraisers are very fun,” said Leah, Lily’s close friend. “We go home after them and say how much we want to do it again, even if we don’t make as much as the last time. I feel so happy that we are making a difference.”
Since their first event a couple weeks ago, they had one more fundraiser in Oakland last Sunday at the First Unitarian Church. The event was booming with life. There was music playing, people dancing, and more money being raised for RAICES. In total, from Lily and Lauren’s two fundraisers, a GoFundMe page, and sales of “These walls can’t stop the love” t-shirts, they have raised $11,490, far surpassing their original goal of $5,000.
As arrests along the southern border have increased 97 percent since last year, reported by the Border Patrol, and RAICES services are needed now more than ever. Lily and Lauren’s donations will go towards helping these immigrants, specifically those who have been separated from their children.
“In our future we want opportunities for other people. There is a kid my age who went to one of these [detention] shelters because they didn’t have their parents. I would like them and their kids to have a better future. That is why we are donating to RAICES,” said Nico, Lauren’s best friend.
Lily, Lauren, and their whole community want to continue helping immigrants along the US-Mexico border through fundraisers. Even though they are still young activists, it is clear they are making a real change in hundreds of people’s lives.