The Childhood Cancer Blog

7 Tips for Hosting a Butterfly Release 

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By: Trish Adkins

Each June, nearly 1,000 people gather at Penn Wynne Elementary, in a suburb of Philadelphia, for Alex’s “Original” Lemonade Stand. The event — a day of fun, lemonade and fundraising for childhood cancer research — honors the life and legacy of Alex Scott, the founder of Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation. There are lots of games, crafts and family activities, but the major highlight is always the annual butterfly release commemorating and celebrating the lives of all children affected by cancer. 

Kids and adults gather on the lawn of the elementary school and each releases a Monarch or Painted Lady butterfly. The winged beauties fly up and around, resting on local landing spots, which might happen to be a person’s brightly colored t-shirt or their lemon-yellow baseball hat. 

Gigi Umstead, who helps to coordinate Alex’s “Original” and the butterfly release, says the moment is something guests look forward to year after year. She has several tips for would-be butterfly release hosts. Her top tip: Make it meaningful and invite your guests to make the release a personal moment. 

“As everyone releases their butterflies, it is sort of like they are releasing a memory of a loved one to be free and to continue living on,” said Gigi. In addition to giving meaning to the moment, Gigi says having some special luxuries for the butterflies, who might be sleepy from a long hibernation, can help make the event special too. Pick a location that has butterfly-friendly habitats nearby, so the new insects have a place to go. Hosts can also set up a “Butterfly Rest Station” with swallow bowls of sugar water and native flowering plants in pots to give the butterflies a spot to recharge and rest. Gigi also offers these other tips:

1.    Several months in advance, research a vendor that can supply you with local, indigenous butterflies in time for your event. 

2.    Butterflies are shipped overnight. Select a delivery date no more than 48 hours before your event. (And the closer to the event, the better! Butterflies do require some babysitting, more on that next.)

3.    Since your butterflies will arrive asleep in an ice-cooled container, plan to replace the ice as it defrosts to keep the butterflies in a state of hibernation. On the day of your event, assign some volunteers to refresh the ice as needed. At Alex’s “Original,” the accounting team keeps watch over the butterflies (and the donations). 

4.    A few hours before your scheduled release, remove the ice and unpack your butterflies. Each butterfly is wrapped in paper.

5.    Come up with a butterfly distribution plan. Some years, says Gigi, the butterflies were passed out by volunteers, which sometimes led to guests without a butterfly. Instead, Gigi recommends having butterfly pick-up stations placed strategically around the release areas, staffed by volunteers to manage self-pick up. Or you can do a mass release and have the butterflies in one box for a visual effect. 

6.    Remind your guests to bring some personal meaning to the release, by thinking of who they are honoring as they unwrap and release the butterfly. 

7.    In the case of an extra-sleepy butterfly, let guests know about the butterfly rest station with sugar water and safe spots to land. 

Want to experience Alex’s "Original" Lemonade Stand and the annual butterfly release? This year, join the fun on June 1 from 10am-3pm at Penn Wynne Elementary School in Wynnewood, PA. General admission is free, but an All-Access Ticket ($25) includes a limited-edition Alex’s “Original” Lemonade Stand t-shirt and covers all donation for games, food, activities, and lemonade.