Keith Douglas and Pamela Church are connected in a roundabout way, but they don’t know one another.
Church begins teaching a four-day program this weekend at Everett Community College to help individuals with kidney disease learn how to improve their quality of life.
She is program coordinator for the National Kidney Foundation of Oregon and Washington. Last year, the organization’s budget was supported by more than $11,000 from recycling pop-can tabs.
The Redmond-based group gets about 40 cents per pound for the tabs. It takes 1,200 pop tops to equal one pound of aluminum. To get thousands of dollars means you have to recycle a lot of tops. Who saves all those shiny aluminum clickers?
Enter Douglas, 77, who has given tabs to organizations such as the kidney foundation for more than a decade. At the Everett Elks Lodge, 2731 Rucker Ave., Douglas is not only Elk of the year, he makes macram chairs for raffles and collects pop tops from Elk’s recreation vehicle enthusiasts.
“Some people didn’t know where to take them,” Douglas said. “People bring them to my house or the Elks.”
I saw this year’s enormous stash, which filled a five-gallon bucket, a huge water jug, a peanut butter jar and plastic sacks.
“It’s like a pyramid,” he said. “It’s volume.”
Folks at Boeing collect the tabs, an Enumclaw senior center mails them to Douglas, and Everett High School contributes. Douglas, of Mukilteo, said some of the tabs benefit Ronald McDonald House.
And they asked me to announce a change.
Brenda Chrystie, development assistant for Ronald McDonald House in Seattle, said they prefer to receive whole cans, not pop tops. She said they are trying to spread the word.
Tomra Recycling Network, formerly Reynolds Aluminum, also is trying to kill a pull-tab rumor. Lou Valenzuela, Tomra’s area business manager, said people think you can get free kidney dialysis time by turning in the tabs.
“The rumor has been around for 17 years,” Valenzuela said. “Beginning next year, we will no longer take in the tabs for Ronald. You can request that your recycled cans go to Ronald’s.”
On the trail for who wants tabs, I called Everett’s Puget Sound Kidney Center. Marka Steadman, human resources director for the center, said the center gets calls about recycling. “They want to know where they can take pop-top lids,” she said. “We do not do that. We never have.”
Steadman referred me to the National Kidney Foundation, where I learned that the collection work performed by folks like Douglas does support great causes. The Redmond foundation uses tab money to continue its education and screening programs.
“It does not pay for dialysis,” Church said. “That’s an urban myth. It’s a wonderful thing to think that, but it’s not true.”
What is true is that Douglas has sent tabs to Ontario, Canada, where Elora Legion uses the proceeds to buy wheelchairs. When Douglas and his wife travel to Arizona this winter, they will deliver gallons of pop tops to a friend who delivers to a group in Iowa.
The retired Everett businessman has been married to his wife Betty for 55 years. He wore a Central Washington University sweat shirt the day we met. His grandson, Nicholas French, is a senior at Central. Another grandson, Lucas French, is a freshman at Western Washington University.
Both boys helped their grandfather collect pop tops. They also helped him place flags at an Everett cemetery on Veterans Days. Keith Douglas served in the Navy during World War II.
Douglas knows that people with medical situations often need a little help. When his sister had a heart attack in Iowa, his brother-in-law stayed at a Ronald McDonald House that only cost 85 cents per day. That teensy fee covered laundering for his bedding.
A cancer survivor himself, Douglas never hesitates to go the extra mile for a cause.
Those with kidney disease at the college program this weekend won’t know who gave can openers to benefit their educational program, but we know it’s folks like Douglas whose diligence is tops.
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