ST. PETERSBURG — When Callee Connon was in second grade, her teacher asked students to do a project to show they care about the community. The only requirement was that it had to be something they cared about.
Callee, now 12 and a seventh-grader at Madeira Beach Fundamental School, cared about elephants and riding her bike at the time, she said, so she decided to give a bicycle to a child who didn't have one. When she contacted the organization that was then ASAP Homeless Services, she found out seven kids needed bikes.
So she started a lemonade stand outside her parents' home to raise money.
One neighbor gave her a donation that was enough to buy 21 additional bikes, which she gave to the Christmas Toy Shop.
"I think everyone should be able to ride a bike," Callee said.
Since 2011, Callee has donated more than 275 new bikes, 126 helmets and 118 used bikes to local charities including CASA, the YWCA and the Catholic Charities San Jose Mission.
Most weekends from mid-October until December, Callee sets up her stand outside her house on 34th Avenue NE and waits for passers-by interested in the home-brewed lemonade. She doesn't ask for a specific amount for the lemonade. Some weekends she makes about $10. Others have reached up to a few hundred and sometimes people have donated used bikes.
Around the holidays she donates the bikes. A new 26-inch bike costs $75-$90, a new 20-inch bike costs $60-$75 and a new helmet costs $10-$20. Last year, she donated 72 new bikes, 53 helmets and about 60 used bikes. She hopes to surpass that this year.
Her mother, Cindee Connon, who recently helped Callee open a checking account solely for money raised for the bikes, said she's impressed by her daughter's entrepreneurship with the lemonade stands, which have evolved from hand-drawn signs in the yard.
Now Callee's stand features a professionally printed banner. She can often be found at local markets and festivals, where she now makes most of her money. She experiments with berries and other flavors in her recipes. She got an app that allows people to pay using credit cards after noticing other vendors at festivals offer that option.
"We're pretty proud of her," Cindee said. "At that age, to be able to see beyond yourself is pretty special."
Sometimes that's meant missing birthday parties or tennis events for a festival stand. But Callee has also enlisted the help of her middle-school on some weekends to give her company while she runs the stands.
Callee's sisters made a website and a Facebook page that give regular updates on where she can be found each weekend. Her neighbors are regular patrons. One even brings cookies sometimes for Callee to give away with her lemonade.
Dan Surplus, 87, who has worked with Callee since she started coming to the Christmas Toy Shop six years ago, said he remembers being taken aback by Callee's chutzpah when she first came in.
"It was quite a shock to see this young girl, but she brought in brand-new bicycles," he said. "It's always so heartwarming to see such a young girl to take such interest in doing this."
Callee said she hopes to continue raising funds for bikes even after she starts high school, though she said she might stop holding the stands outside her house.
"When I just imagine the look on the kids' faces Christmas morning, it makes me want to keep doing it," she said.
Contact Divya Kumar at [email protected] Follow @divyadivyadivya.