Pop can tabs add up for kids

Published 2:31 pm Thursday, September 2, 2010

It took eight months, but Charles Van House made history for the Austin Shrine Center: Most aluminum can tabs collected.

It was history without fanfare; a milestone more suited for a hospital corridor than a stage. Not the kind of project the Guinness Book of Records would find interesting.

If a group of cute kids had done it, maybe they would have gotten a few seconds at the end of the evening television newscast. Pictures of children without arms and legs are too … uncomfortable.

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In fact, Van House wasn’t sure anybody would be interested. “This has been going on for quite awhile among the Shriners. I didn’t know how well we could do down here but I thought it needed a little push, when we started it in January,” he said. “I had never done anything like this before, but I thought I would give it a try.”

“Pretty soon, when the word got out, I had people bringing me their tabs and then the bar-owners said they could help, too, and before you know it, the tabs were coming in left and right,” Van House said. “I was surprised at just how many we collected.”

Van House delivered the tabs in buckets to the Shrine Auxiliary in Minneapolis Friday, Aug 27. The organization will sell the tabs and with the proceeds, they buy specially equipped wheelchairs, which they distribute, to the disabled free of charge.

Last year, the Shrine Auxiliary raised over $300,000 from sale of the tabs for the wheelchairs project.

“There are wheelchairs obtained from the auxiliary in use in Austin,” said Ross Mickelsen, Austin Shrine Center band director. “One of them calls it his ‘Cadillac.’ It’s all decked out in pretty fancy shape. But every chair is special to the person who needs it”

The tabs number in the hundreds of thousands. “Who knows? Maybe, we got a million or more,” he said.

Van House distributed empty coffee cans to the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars clubrooms and local bars in Austin and Mapleview. They sat at the end of the bar and one by one the tabs were dropped inside. “Then I would got around every 2 or 3 weeks and collect what people left in the cans,” Van House said.

On Wednesday, Aug. 25, a local bar owner delivered a peanut butter jar full of tabs to Van House’s northwest Austin home. “That’s the kind of response we have gotten. People want to help,” Van House said.

Since 1922, Shriners’ Hospitals for Children have been providing medical and rehabilitative services to children with congenital deformities and conditions, problems resulting from orthopedic injuries, and diseases of the neuromusculosketal system.

Van House and Mickelsen are unabashedly willing to tell anyone about the outstanding philanthropic record of the Shriners organization around the world. “We are the largest philanthropists in the world,” said Van House. “ The cost of maintaining the 22 hospitals is over $2-million a day 365 days a year. We have the finest orthopedic surgeons in the world and the best medical staffs anywhere and all the care and services is offered free of charge.”

In the darkness of a bar or clubroom, it could be easy to ignore the deep coffee can wrapped with the homemade sign reading: Changing The World Through Caring For Kids.

In a kid’s world without arms or legs, that’s where the dream of a wheel chair to join the world begins.

Anybody interested in saving aluminum tabs and turning them over to the Austin Shrine Center may call Van House.