Local 152 Leaders is a new program UFCW Local 152 started to better showcase some of our amazing members who choose to go above and beyond their daily routine and make a difference in their communities. This month, our Local 152 Leader is Patti O’Neill, a 30-year deli clerk at Acme Markets in North Ocean City, New Jersey.
Patti is the face of the Alex’s Lemonade Stand fundraiser in her store. For those unfamiliar, Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation is a national childhood cancer foundation dedicated to raising funds for research into new treatments and cures for all children battling cancer. If Patti’s name sounds familiar, it may be because UFCW Local 152 actually highlighted her work for the charity in last fall’s Unity Newsletter.
Aside from her determined attitude, one of the first things you’ll notice about Patti is a small, bright yellow lemon pin brightening up her Acme Markets lanyard. Wearing the trademark lemon pin is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the dedication and determination she has for raising money for Alex’s Lemonade Stand. Patti truly lives and breathes for the foundation, and it is inspiring to witness.
Patti’s initial interest in Alex’s Lemonade Stand has tragic origins. Patti’s son, Christopher James or “CJ” as he was lovingly known, was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer in January 2007 at just seventeen years old. During his battle with cancer, CJ spent a lot of time at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), which Patti recalls as being a wonderful hospital. After a ten-month battle with the cancer attacking his lungs and brain, CJ passed away on November 16th, 2007 at the young age of 18.
“I never say cancer took him,” she emphasized. “I say God took him from his cancer.”
Patti first took interest in Alex’s Lemonade Stand after seeing a telethon while CJ was still sick. She had heard of the reputable children’s cancer charity, but it didn’t evoke such strong emotion until that moment. Her company (then SuperFresh) began raising money for the charity in 2004, but after her son’s passing Patti took the reins in her store in memory of her son.
As a company, Acme Markets annually raises money for Alex’s Lemonade Stand for two weeks each year (usually the first two weeks in June) by selling paper lemons at registers for donations. Patrons can sign their names on these lemons and showcase their support for the charity in the store. However, Patti goes the extra mile by hosting Acme’s lemonade stand in front of the store beyond the scheduled time, where she and her coworkers sells things like cupcakes, cookies, candles, lemon bars, and other lemon-themed items, which she either purchases with her own money or receives as a donation from others. Coworkers Lynn Fisher, Nicole Dean, Sue Jones, and her daughter Kristin Jones were instrumental in helping create and provide these lemon-themed items; meanwhile, coworkers Phylecia, Reneisa, and Rolsolana were pivotal in helping her raise funds at the store. Another coworker, Nancy Spencer, makes it her mission every year to sell the most lemons at her register. For the 2018 year, Patti O’Neill and her fellow employees at Acme Markets in North Ocean City managed to raise over $5,200 for Alex’s Lemonade Stand, coming in first place for their district and eighth overall in the company!
Patti’s perseverance at the stand ensures extra donations, which further supports research into treatment for cancers that cost children their lives. She hopes that her persistent fundraising efforts for Alex’s Lemonade Stand will help save the lives of children across the globe, so that future families may not know the extraordinary personal loss she and husband Jim O’Neill live with every day.
Her fundraising efforts gave her the unique opportunity to meet Alex Scott’s parents — the “Alex” who started the original lemonade stand. In 2015, her store hit the company record for the most money raised and she was able to personally present the store’s check at Alex’s Lemonade Stand headquarters to Alex’s parents, Liz and Jay Scott. In honor of the event, Patti had lemons painted on her toenails and wore as much yellow as possible. She was able to talk with Liz and Jay about her son and tell them how strongly she felt about the charity’s mission and its importance in her life.
After their conversation, Liz Scott presented Patti with a custom-made lemon purse. The purse was one of only two created by a private designer, and Liz had been holding onto its match for some time, trusting that she would know the person meant to have the match when she met her. On that day in 2015, Liz met Patti, and it was clear in Liz’s mind that Patti was meant to have the matching lemon purse.
While it’s impossible to ever fully recover from the loss of her son, Patti insists that CJ’s love and spirit is always with her. In fact, Patti frequently experiences odd, unexplainable things that she can only attest to her son, like the number four presenting itself in mysterious ways. Her son was born on April 4th, 1989.
For example, when Patti was hand-picked by Acme Markets to attend the Alex’s Lemonade Stand kickoff event in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania last year, it just so happened to fall on the 4th of June, which she took as a sign of luck. On her way to this event, Patti got lost, and somehow ended up in front of the CHOP, the hospital CJ was in for some time before his passing. And remember the Unity article she was featured in last year? Patti received her copy in the mail on the tenth anniversary of her son’s passing – November 16th, 2017. Coincidence or not, these small instances comfort her. She believes he would be proud of her for her work that she does every year in honor of his battle with cancer.
Patti attributes the drive and success of each year’s stand to all of her friends and colleagues who get behind her and contribute, donate, support, and give her the strength to raise funds for a cure for childhood cancer. The small lemon pin Patti O’Neill wears on her Acme Markets lanyard every single day is so much more than a pin. It’s a sign of love, a token of remembrance, and perhaps most of all, a symbol of hope.
Patti, on behalf of UFCW Local 152, thank you for your extraordinary fundraising efforts for Alex’s Lemonade Stand year after year. If you are interested in donating to Alex’s Lemonade Stand, you can do so by clicking here.