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HJHS student pops tops to help others

By Staff
Tracy B. Cieniewicz, Hartselle Enquirer
Students collecting little aluminum tabs can help make a big difference in the lives of seriously ill children and their families.
Hartselle Junior High School seventh grader Teryn Swader has collected more than 170,000 aluminum pop tabs this year. Her grandmother, Linda Hamilton of Huntsville, works at a cancer treatment center in Huntsville and heard the tabs could potentially help cancer patients.
Teryn, 12, said her sixth grade science teacher, Debbie Smith, at HJHS encouraged students to help others in their community, so Teryn and her grandmother teamed up with Huntsville cancer patients to collect tabs beginning last summer.
"It feels good to help other people," Teryn said. "When we counted all the tabs and loaded them up, it filled up the trunk of our car."
A friend of the family contacted Gov. Bob Riley about Teryn's project and the governor sent a letter congratulating her on her success. A family member contacted a national health magazine and Teryn's project was featured in a recent issue.
"It was neat," Teryn said. "I'm going to keep collecting the tabs until someone tells me to stop."
Teryn and her grandmother donated the tabs to a local organization in hopes that they will be converted into free chemotherapy treatments, but if not Teryn said she hopes the tabs will still help someone in need.
The Ronald McDonald House Pop Tab Collection Program is one way for kind-hearted students like Teryn to help people in Alabama.
"I will hear of people who think they (tabs) are paying for chemotherapy treatments and when they find out that they are not, they think our program is not for real either–but it is," Roberta Shapiro, executive director of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Alabama, said. "We have 31 bedrooms in the Birmingham Ronald McDonald House and the tabs donated each year pay for the full operation of one room for nine months–that's about 40 families a year. These little things do add up."
Children from birth to age 21 who are being treated at nearby hospitals and medical facilities, like UAB Children's Hospital, and their families are eligible to stay at the Ronald McDonald House. Their stay can be as short as one night or as long as several months, and sometimes a year or more, depending on the child's illness and treatment.
"Many of our families are here for outpatient needs or during a short hospital stay, but some stay longer," Shapiro said. "Last year at the Birmingham Ronald McDonald House we housed 1,249 families from all over Alabama, several states and two foreign countries."
While the actual cost to operate a room varies between $50-$100 per night, families are asked to donate an average of between $5-$25 per night to stay at a Ronald McDonald House.
However, the fee is waived for those who cannot afford it. The difference is made up through donations, including tab collections.
The Ronald McDonald House in Birmingham works with Jason Stein of Brothers Recycling to convert about 23 million aluminum tabs annually into $13,000 in operating cash.
The Birmingham Ronald McDonald House is the only Ronald McDonald House Pop Tab Collection Program collection site in Alabama.
"Jason pays us a higher rate for the tabs," Shapiro explained. "The cash is then used to buy toilet paper, pay the heating bill, keep the lights on, and pay the staff."
Thanks to support from tab collections, as well as individual and corporate donors, families are never turned away because of their inability to pay.
The Ronald McDonald House Pop Tab Collection Program was established in 1987 and hundreds of millions of tabs have been collected nationwide, generating millions of dollars for Ronald McDonald houses across the country.
For more information on the Ronald McDonald House Pop Tab Collection Program to benefit the Birmingham Ronald McDonald House, call 205-918-4535 or 205-918-4534 or visit www.rmhc.org.

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