It started with planting pink daises and seeing them spring up around town every May in memory of Colleen Ritzer.
Then in 2019, the Andover McDonald's raised about $4,000 for a memorial fund in honor of Ritzer, who was murdered in October 2013 by a freshman at Danvers High School, where she taught.
This year, McDonald's franchise owner Carissa Haley of North Andover is expanding her pink drink fundraiser to all three of her restaurants. As of May 10, Haley says they're on pace to more than double their 2019 amount. One dollar from every pink beverage – a Minute Maid Pink Lemonade Slushie, Strawberry Shake or McCafé Smoothie – at participating McDonald’s locations during the month of May will go to the Colleen E. Ritzer Memorial Scholarship.
"Something as little as buying a pink drink at McDonald's can add up and give back to these scholarships," Haley said.
Haley owns the Andover, Amesbury and Newburyport McDonald's locations that have already pulled in more than $1,800 for the scholarship fund, she said. Her original goal with all three locations was $7,500, but knowing she will likely surpass that she has expanded her goal to be $10,000, she said. Haley also got two other local owners to partner up with her for the fundraiser.
The strong community effort to remember the former Andover resident inspired Haley to see how her business could also help the cause.
"It started because I saw Mad Maggie's selling pink sprinkles and I thought 'how can we jump in at an even bigger level?'" Haley said.
Haley didn't fundraise last year because of the pandemic, but wanted to come back stronger this year by adding more participating locations, she said. That's why she got her brother and the owner of the North Andover McDonald's location, JJ Lietz, on board. Lindsay Wallin, the owner of the Danvers and Middleton McDonald's, is also participating because Ritzer taught in Danvers.
"I hope through social media outreach and signs in the restaurant people are inspired to give back in their own ways," Haley said, explaining that could be through participating in the annual 5K, through buying the pink flowers or a drink from a local McDonald's.
Since its inception in 2014, the Colleen E. Ritzer Memorial Scholarship has awarded nearly $305,000 in scholarships to future teachers.
"Every little bit counts and adds up to more recognition for Colleen," Haley said.