Julian Dunn loved LEGO products.
Julian’s mother, Andrea, noted that “Julian would often joke that he had an incurable LEGO bug, and although his physical body couldn’t do all the things a typical healthy boy could do, he excelled at building one LEGO creation after another.”
LEGO toys helped Julian take his mind off his treatments for brain cancer, a diagnosis Julian received when he was in kindergarten.
Julian attended Mariners Elementary School, as did neighbor Lauren Roberts. When she learned that Julian was battling brain cancer, five-year-old Lauren asked her parents to help her open a lemonade stand in support of her friend.
“Lauren said she wanted to sell lemonade on Balboa Island to raise money for Julian,” recalled Newport Beach resident Jeff Roberts. “So we made five gallon jugs of lemonade and baked cookies, and set her up on Balboa Island with her sister, Ashley. They raised over $1,000. The next day we presented the money to Julian’s parents, Rich and Andrea. They were moved by this little girl’s desire to help her neighbor.”
Although Julian lost his cancer battle when he was in the third grade, his parents launched Julian’s LEGO Corner, a fund at Children’s Health Orange County (CHOC) where Julian had undergone his treatments. The fund provides new LEGO sets for hospitalized patients to play with while receiving care, with a particular focus on children in the oncology unit and those with other serious conditions.
After Jeff Roberts and three fellow Newport Beach natives acquired Sgt. Pepperoni’s Pizza in 2013, they began fundraising for Julian’s LEGO Corner through sales of pizza, and sales of Sweet Things for a Sweet Cause, a line of desserts cooked up by Lauren Roberts and sold at the Sgt. Pepperoni’s pizza store on Bristol Street in Newport Beach, and now at the two newer locations in Irvine and Aliso Viejo.
“We have raised $100,000 for Julian’s LEGO Corner,” said Jeff Roberts. “Last year was $37,000, this year we’re gunning for $50,000, and we’re getting local businesses and corporate partners to match some of our fundraising efforts.” This includes a matching grant from Newport Beach-based Glidewell and its founding family.
In recognition of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in September, Sgt. Pepperoni’s Pizza Store has launched their annual Julian’s LEGO Corner campaign with 100 percent of proceeds from September’s Pizza of the Month, Da Rulk Pie (cauliflower crust with ground beef, ricotta cheese and marinara sauce, or build-your-own) donated to Julian’s LEGO Corner.
According to Jeff Roberts, Da Rulk is a therapist and trainer whom Jeff met through business associates. Da Rulk has a connection to CHOC—his daughter is autistic, so Da Rulk got involved raising funds and awareness for the autism ward at CHOC. Last year, Da Rulk and Sgt. Pepperoni’s Pizza collaborated by feeding the entire staff at CHOC pizza.
This year, Da Rulk helped create the pizza of the month, a gluten-free, veggie-based version of Sgt. Pepperoni’s signature pies.
Throughout the year, Sgt. Pepperoni’s also puts all dessert revenue from cookies, brownies, and Wow Bars into a fund that’s added to the final donation in September.
Customers can also bring new LEGO sets or make cash donations at all three Sgt. Pepperoni’s locations through the end of September.
Lauren Roberts is now an incoming freshman at the University of Utah, so her sister Ashley has taken up the torch and is helping with the fundraising efforts.
“We are grateful and very humbled to stand beside Julian’s parents, who have shown so much strength and love,” said Jeff Roberts. “We celebrate their friendship and want to go above and beyond to help all the kids receiving treatment at CHOC.”
“We are grateful to everyone who is supporting this effort, as we know that LEGO sets are the No. 1 requested item of children who are hospitalized,” said Andrea Dunn.
“What started as a small lemonade stand on Balboa Island has grown into a campaign that fills our hearts,” Jeff Roberts adds. “Today, the four owner families of Sgt. Pepperoni’s and over 100 employee team members carry on Julian’s legacy. We will serve more than 40,000 customers in the month of September, and each one will learn about Julian’s LEGO Corner and hopefully feel inspired to support our efforts.”
For more information, visit the website at www.sgtpepps.com.