Thirst Aid

updated 09/04/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/04/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

At the very moment Chelsie Dillman was setting up her Kool-Aid stand last summer in Greenwood, Ind., her stepfather, Billy Berry, was undergoing kidney dialysis. Distressed, the young entrepreneur had a brainstorm: She made a sign asking people to buy her wares so that Berry, then uninsured, could pay for a transplant. "He was not doing really good," says Chelsie, 9. "I figured that would help."

She figured right. With a little aid from family and friends, Chelsie—who also washed cars, held bake sales and bagged groceries—has raised almost $17,000. "It chokes me up," says Berry, 32, an airplane mechanic. "She keeps me fighting." He is using some of the money to pay for newly acquired insurance premiums and medication and is on the transplant waiting list at an Indianapolis hospital. The rest will be saved for post-operative care.

Local press coverage has drawn customers from near and far to help Chelsie. Retiree Leroy Hunt, 68, rode his bike 18 miles each way and paid $10 for two glasses of her lemon-lime Kool-Aid, normally a $1 purchase. "I was overwhelmed," he says, "that a young lady of that age can be so thoughtful."

Those who know Chelsie aren't surprised. "She's a giver and always will be," says third-grade teacher Donna Kamish, 39, who wrote a $25 check for a drink. Hunt and Kamish aren't the only big tippers. One anonymous patron paid with an envelope. When Chelsie's home-maker mother, Suzie, 30, opened it, she found ten $100 bills. "I know the world now," says Chelsie. "And it's nice and it's helpful."

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