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Sgt. Pepperoni’s Pizza slings slices for Julian’s Lego Corner, a fund at Children’s Health of Orange County

Paige Roberts, 9, holds the special Da Rulk Pie, a pizza in honor of Julian Dunn at Sgt. Pepperoni's Pizza game room.
Paige Roberts, 9, holds the special Da Rulk Pie, a pizza in honor of Julian Dunn at Sgt. Pepperoni’s Pizza game room in Newport Beach. The restaurant is raising funds and collecting Lego sets in partnership with Julian’s Lego Corner at CHOC hospital. Julian Dunn, a patient at CHOC, was a neighbor of the girls.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Each September, Sgt. Pepperoni’s Pizza Store raises funds and collects brand-new Lego kits for Julian’s Lego Corner, a fund at Children’s Health Orange County created in memory of Julian Dunn.

“When children go through cancer treatment, it affects them in so many ways,” said Julian’s mother, Andrea Dunn, who co-created Julian’s Lego Corner with her husband, Richard. “My son didn’t have the endurance to do physical things like other children his age.”

Julian was diagnosed with brain cancer in kindergarten and began undergoing treatment, but with Legos, he was able to play like a regular kid.

“He really found something that he could do well, that he enjoyed and that stimulated his mind,” said Dunn. “It really gave him a lot of joy.”

Julian inspired the Dunns and the child life department at CHOC Hospital in Orange to launch Julian’s Lego Corner and call for donations of Lego kits or cash to create a creative outlet for children in treatment for illness. Since 2013, when Julian died at the age of 9, the effort has raised nearly $100,000.’

Richard and Andrea Dunn hold a photograph of their late son Julian
Richard and Andrea Dunn hold a photograph of their late son Julian, who died of Medulloblastoma, a type of brain cancer, in 2013. The Dunn’s started a fund at Children’s Hospital of Orange County called Julian’s Lego Corner, where people can donate money or Legos to be distributed to children in the hospital.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

To show support for September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month (and Julian’s birthday month) Sgt. Pepperoni’s invites diners to drop off new Lego sets or make cash donations online or at any of its locations in Newport Beach, Aliso Viejo and Irvine.

The partnership between Sgt. Pepperoni’s Julian’s Lego Corner started when Julian’s classmate, friend and neighbor, Lauren Roberts, whose parents Erica and Jeff Roberts own the restaurants, decided she wanted to help.

“Quite early on, our friends, the Roberts, joined up with us,” said Dunn. “They put a lot of energy behind the campaign.”

Initially, Lauren opened a lemonade stand in support of Julian, eventually raising just over $1,000 and founding Sweet Things for a Sweet Cause, a collection of desserts to benefit Julian’s Lego Corner. Lauren’s baked goods were developed for Sgt. Pepperoni’s menu, and throughout the year, the restaurants put revenue from cookies, brownies and Wow Bars into a fund that’s added to the final donation in September.

Desserts made by the Roberts family in honor of Julian Dunn at Sgt. Pepperoni's Pizza in Newport Beach.
Desserts created and made by the Roberts family in honor of Julian Dunn at Sgt. Pepperoni’s Pizza in Newport Beach.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Lauren said she remembers her young friend always being positive and always being excited about Legos.

“Whenever I would visit him, he always seemed in such good spirits, even though he was dealing with something so difficult,” said Lauren. “And he was always working on Legos, and would show me his new project.”

Dunn said her son was particularly fond of Star Wars Legos, and she knows he was not alone in his love of the toys.

“We know that Lego sets are the No. 1 requested item of children who are hospitalized,” said Dunn.

Besides the donations and earnings from dessert sales, 100% of the proceeds from September’s Pizza of the Month, Da Rulk Pie, made with cauliflower crust with ground beef, ricotta cheese and marinara sauce, will also be donated to Julian’s Lego Corner.

The Da Rulk Pie, the pizza of the month at Sgt. Pepperoni's.
The Da Rulk Pie, the pizza of the month at Sgt. Pepperoni’s Pizza in Newport Beach, Aliso Viejo and Irvine.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Lauren now attends college out of state, but her three younger sisters, Paige, Grace and Ashley Roberts, are continuing their older sister’s dedication to the campaign.

“Julian was one of Lauren’s close friends in elementary school, and we thought it would be special to continue on his legacy by helping kids at CHOC get Legos and have something to do while they are getting treatment, ” said Ashley. “Lauren is my best friend, and she is also my sister, so knowing it is important to her makes it important to me.”

Paige, Grace and Ashley Roberts, from left, at Sgt. Pepperoni's Pizza in honor of Julian's Lego Corner.
Paige, Grace and Ashley Roberts, from left, create sunflower arrangements at Sgt. Pepperoni’s Pizza restaurant in Newport Beach in honor of Julian’s Lego Corner.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Paige and Grace expressed similar sentiments.

“It makes me happy to raise money and help people,” said Paige.

“It makes me feel good knowing that I am making other people happy while helping them,” Grace added. “Julian is family. Through our desserts and donations we can help other people like him.”

Last year, Sgt. Pepperoni’s raised $35,000 and collected 100 Lego kits. This year, the family hopes to raise more than $50,000, a goal Dunn is confident they can achieve.

“There is power in love, and Julian gave as much love as he could,” said Dunn. “That really inspired a lot of people, and it inspired the Roberts, so that power just continues. It shows what can be accomplished when a community rallies.”

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