Berkeley girls choose churros and hot chocolate to fight Texas border wall effort

Maya Fleming, Lily Ellis, Lauren Jones and Leah Green raised $2,400 through churros and hot chocolate sales Sunday, and a total of $5,600 by Monday, with proceeds going to RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services). Photo: Jenny Jones

There’s a little boy in Texas, about 1,500 miles away from Berkeley, who has no idea how much of a ruckus he started in California.

Lily Ellis, 10, recently saw a viral video of Benton Stevens, a 7-year-old in Austin who earlier this month raised about $5,000 selling hot chocolate, with the money going to President Donald Trump’s effort to build a wall at the Mexico border.

“I showed Lily and she said ‘Uh … no,” said Lily’s mom, Zoe Ellis.

Lily grabbed her friend Lauren Jones, also 10, and went “into a room together, where all kinds of things can happen,” Zoe said. The meeting resulted in a challenge.


“The little kid in Texas raised $5,000,” Lily said. “So, we wanted to get at least that.”

And they did. The girls — along with friends from Berkeley’s Grammy-nominated kids hip hop group Alphabet Rockers, Maya Fleming, 10, and Leah Green, 11 — sold Mexican hot chocolate and churros in front of Freight & Salvage on Sunday, with proceeds going to RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services), a South Texas nonprofit providing legal aid to immigrants. The girls’ idea is to help families who have been separated in recent months by federal officials, in a politically charged crackdown of illegal immigration.

Lauren’s family owns Jenny’s Churros in Albany, which provided the hot chocolate and churros — the latter of which ran out before the stand closed.

By Sunday evening, the girls hit their goal and then some: $2,400 in churros and hot chocolate, $2,200 on their GoFundMe page, $700 on the Alphabet Rockers page, and $300 in “These Walls Can’t Stop the Love” T-shirt sales.

That’s $5,600. Take that, Texas. (And the number is climbing as they are keeping the GoFundMe page open all this week so they can try to reach their goal of $10,000.)

“There was a lot of screaming and jumping around,” Zoe said. “Everyone had so much fun. It was such a community thing.”

At one point, the line was 15 people long, on Addison Street in front of the downtown Berkeley venue. DJ Roza provided the music, as passing drivers honked their approval.

‘At first I was confused, because I don’t see a lot of people doing that,” said Lily, of the boy in Texas raising money for Trump’s wall. “I like that he was standing up for what he thought was right. But I thought we could do even more. We’re going to push back on what he did. We were like ‘We can do something about this.’”

“I think no child should be separated from their family,” said Lauren, who has been friends with Lily since they were 2. “I imagine my friend, or even me, being separated from my family, or even taken from them.”

“It’s terrible,” said Lily.

Both girls come by their cause honestly. Lily’s grandfather is Russ Ellis, who was the vice chancellor for undergraduate affairs at UC Berkeley, and chairman of the campus Congress of Racial Equality at UCLA, where he was a student in the 1960s. Lauren’s mom, Jenny Jones, was an ethnic studies major at UC Berkeley whose grandparents came from Mexico.

Members of both families say they’ve tried not to unduly influence their children as far as their political opinions go. But, as Russ Ellis said, these ideas sometimes “percolate” in families, whether it’s overt or not.

“We try not to be very political at home, but it’s hard,” said Jones. “We talk about being global citizens. Lauren calls (the detention centers to which immigrant families have been sent) them ‘cages,’ and ‘camps,’ which is heartbreaking to me. You think of World War II internment camps.”

Of all the attention the girls are suddenly getting, at least partially thanks to their families’ connections to the community, Jones says “I want the girls to own this. I don’t want the spotlight to be on our business. It’s their thing. It’s up to them.”

“Lily is really extraordinary,” said Russ Ellis. “She is really an old soul. It’s kind of astonishing.”

Sharon Dolan is the executive director of Freight & Salvage. She said the event is a natural for them, as the girls’ values line up with those of the venue.

“The Freight belongs to the community, so when Lily and Lauren had their idea, we wanted to give them space,” she said. “They’re really going to be something.”

Alphabet Rockers Founding Director Kaitlin McGaw said the girls’ cause also coincides with those of the group, of which Lily is a member. One of their songs deals with the implications of a border wall, as does one of the T-shirts they sell.

“The song ‘Walls’ tells the story of our kids,” McGaw says. “The kids are afraid. They can’t move freely, and it’s affecting their mental health. The way we talk to kids can minimize the effect of these things.”

Zoe Ellis, who teaches singing at Berkeley’s Ashkenaz Music & Dance Community Center, and sang for popular ‘90s band the Mo’Fessionals, said the idea of holding a small hot chocolate sale really blew up once word spread.

Initially, the girls were nervous about the attention. Now, she says, they’re eager to see where things go from here. There was already an offer by Sunday night from someone in Oakland wanting to host another fundraiser there.

“We say fear is always OK, as long as you don’t let it get in the way of what you believe in,” said Zoe, stopping to take orders as the line got too long for the girls to handle on their own. “They hope other kids in other towns will do something similar.”