Lemons of Love Pink Lemonade 5K to help people with cancer, and honor one of their own

Nikki Criel of Chicago loved the color purple. In fact, she would often be seen sporting purple hair and nails to match.

Criel, one of the original committee members for the Mount Prospect nonprofit Lemons of Love, passed away unexpectedly last year at the age of 53.

And while participants in the organization's upcoming Lemons of Love Pink Lemonade 5K can run or walk in honor of a loved one fighting cancer, members of the Lemons of Love family will be dedicating this year's race to Criel.

"The Pink Lemonade 5K is a fun way for us to interact with our community and raise money so we can keep helping cancer patients with our care packages," said Jill Swanson, founder of Lemons of Love, in an email.

"We are honoring our friend Nikki's life this year. She had an infectious smile and such a giving spirit."

Criel was a longtime volunteer for Lemons of Love, which was founded by Swanson when she was battling colon cancer in 2014. Swanson made care packages for other cancer patients to ease the side effects of treatment and it took off from there, now adding various chemo packages for kids and veterans as well.

Criel even helped Swanson find the perfect spot for the Lemons of Love Center in Mount Prospect, which offers classes in yoga, nutrition, stress management and more, and was part of the event's "pit crew," a group of Harley-Davidson motorcyclists - in pink tutus - that provides security to keep 5K participants safe.

To honor Criel, all T-shirts - and even the lemonade - will be purple this year.

The Lemons of Love Pink Lemonade 5K run/walk takes place at 9 a.m. Oct. 1 at Lions Park, 411 S. Maple, Mount Prospect. The cost is $45 per adult.

For more information, to sign up, or to be a sponsor, visit or email

Proceeds help Swanson and her team continue to make a difference in the lives of people with cancer.

"I cannot thank Lemons of Love (staff) enough. I truly appreciate everything that they do for me, always and in all ways. The variety of programs and times given make it accessible for most - checking in and following up, too," said Natalie, a program participant, in an email.

"The best, though, is the participants who listen and can truly empathize with me and others in similar situations - priceless."

Empathy and offering a whole lot of hope are exactly what made Swanson start her nonprofit.

"Lemons of Love started nine years ago as my 'making lemonade' project," Swanson said. "The original goal was to give a gift of love, hope, and togetherness from one survivor to another. Because of the community's continued support, we are able to share love with those impacted by cancer every day."

Swanson talks more about Lemons of Love and the 5K walk/run.

Q: What is Lemons of Love? Give a brief overview of what the organization does and who you serve.

A: When someone is diagnosed with cancer, their life can be turned upside down. Patients must not only live with and manage the challenges and risks cancer poses to their physical health, but also overcome financial and emotional obstacles.

One in two men and one in three women in the United States will have cancer in their lifetimes. These diagnosed individuals are our family, friends, neighbors, and sometimes, even ourselves.

Lemons of Love's mission is to share love with those impacted by cancer. We deliver care packages to hospitals and cancer centers, offer personalized packages for loved ones and provide programs and support. Although everyone's cancer journey is unique, creating a community of love and support makes a positive impact.

Lemons of Love was created in 2014 when founder Jill Swanson was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer. Determined to make lemonade from her diagnosis, Swanson began making care packages and sharing them with other patients in treatment.

While she initially shared these packages to connect with others, she experienced firsthand how a small act of kindness could make a big impact for those diagnosed with cancer.

In addition to sharing care packages to area hospitals, we offer free programs at the Lemons of Love Center at 406 Central Road in Mount Prospect,

Q: How many people do you serve each year?

A: We serve approximately 5,000 individuals each year.

Q: What are some of the programs offered by your resource center?

A: Our classes in Mount Prospect are designed to educate, manage stress, or provide a creative outlet - all in an informal environment that allows guests to connect with each other.

Our programs include yoga, meditation, nutrition, survivorship, creative arts and more. You can view the calendar of upcoming programs at

Q: Where do the majority of your funds come from to support your work?

A: We have fundraisers throughout the year, and generous donors who support our mission. The Pink Lemonade 5K is our longest running fundraiser. Many of our donors are rooted in the motor sport community. For example, 24 Hours of Lemons is one of our biggest philanthropic supporters.

Q: Tell us about the upcoming Lemons of Love Pink Lemonade 5K run/walk.

A: Our Lemons of Love Pink Lemonade 5K is a community wide/family event. This is our ninth year, and we are excited to have community involvement and support.

There are plenty of volunteer opportunities along with the walk/run portion of the event itself. We have rewards for the different levels of fundraising that each participant is able to access and complete.

Please sign up and invite your friends and family to join you! For all other questions, contact

Q: How can readers help your organization?

A: Sign up to participate in the Pink Lemonade 5K.

• Go to our website and send a Chemo Care Package to someone you know with cancer.

• Donate at, and share the love with anyone impacted by cancer.

• Draw happy pictures to go into our care packages. Email to learn more.

• Help us spread the word about Lemons of Love.

The "pit crew" and other volunteers from a previous Lemons of Love Pink Lemonade 5K. The group makes sure all participants are safe as they navigate their way around Lions Park in Mount Prospect. This year's event is Sunday, Oct. 1. Courtesy of Jill Swanson
A deconstructed Lemons of Love care package that is donated to hospitals and oncology centers for people with cancer. Lemons of Love was founded in 2014 by Jill Swanson when she was battling colon cancer. Courtesy of Jill Swanson

Lemons of Love Pink Lemonade 5K

What: A 5K walk/run to benefit the nonprofit Lemons of Love

When: 9 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 1

Where: Lions Park, 411 S. Maple, Mount Prospect

Cost: $45 per adult

Register: <a href=""></a>

Details: Email or visit <a href=""></a>

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