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Hot cocoa stand raises $2,100 to fight breast cancer

It was a regular October afternoon in 2012 for Tooker Avenue Elementary 5th graders Katie Friedman and Toni Acerra. The best friends were lounging around Friedman’s house looking for ways to pass the time, when Friedman had a brilliant, yet simple idea: to set up a hot cocoa stand, a fall take on the traditional lemonade stand, outside her West Babylon home.

But instead of charging, Friedman and Acerra decided to offer hot cocoa and coffee for free, asking instead that patrons make donations to Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, a division of the American Cancer Society.

At the time, Friedman’s mother, Tracy, was fighting her battle against stage 3 breast cancer. Acerra was no stranger to the struggle of breast cancer either. Her aunt, Joanie Isalano, was also fighting the disease.

“I turned to Toni and said, ‘Put on something pink, we’re having a cocoa stand for breast cancer,’” Friedman said. “It was just a way to pass the time at the time, we just wanted to do something good and try to make a difference too.”

What they didn’t expect was the success the cocoa stand would bring. That year, Acerra and Friedman raised $1,000 for Making Strides. The turnout prompted Friedman and Acerra to make the cocoa stand a yearly tradition, branding the event the Katie and Friends Coffee and Cocoa for Breast Cancer fundraiser.

“We were able to raise that much without any advertising, just a few signs posted at the end of the block,” Friedman said. “We thought, ‘If we could do this now, how much more could we raise if we actually got out there and advertised?’ What we were doing wasn’t just a fun little cocoa stand, it was something that could actually make an impact.”

The annual fundraiser has come a long way since then. With the help of Tracy Friedman, who was declared cancer-free in April 2013, the duo was able to form an official partnership with Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, allowing them to be eligible to receive fundraising tools and gift baskets for raffles through the organization. Friedman and Acerra, now 7th graders at West Babylon Junior High School, also recruited the help of friends and classmates to form a “staff” to help keep the event running smoothly every year.

“When I was diagnosed during that period of time, our house fell into chaos, it was a hard time for us,” Friedman said. “This was something that [Friedman and Acerra] could be in control of throughout it all. It’s always been them running this, they have always called all the shots on what we do.”

They even created a mascot -- a tall, smiling cup of coffee named “Flavio,” who appears on all of the flyers, stickers and T-shirts used for advertising the event.

“We thought ‘Fabio,’ at first, but we wanted something with a little more creativity,” Acerra said.

On Oct. 5, Friedman and Acerra held their 3rd annual Coffee and Cocoa for Breast Cancer event, their biggest and most successful event to date, complete with baked goods, coffee, cocoa and the “Driveway Cafe,” a seating area in the Friedman’s driveway to accommodate patrons who wanted to stay awhile. The group also held a silent auction and raffle, made up of donations from local businesses and Making Strides.

Friedman said about 100 people visited the event, and they raised $2,100 in donations this year -- a record high.

Since 2012, Katie and Friends has raised $4,300 for Making Strides. Friedman and Acerra will be hosting another, smaller concession stand at the South Shore Theater Experience in Lindenhurst during showtimes on Nov. 1.  

Acerra has big dream for the future of the event.

“I want lines to be down the block, around the street,” Accerra said, waving her arms, voice quivering with excitement. “I want it to be huge, I want to keep doing this until we have a cure, so my children don’t even know what breast cancer is -- it will be a dinosaur, extinct.”

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