Every tab counts.

Tabs as in the aluminum pull tops from cans of soft drinks, fruit juice, beer — anything that has an aluminum pull tab.

Dick Paulin and his wife, Karen, who live in the Sunland Springs Village retirement neighborhood in east Mesa, know them well, because since September 2007 they and a host of their family members and friends have been collecting them for a cause.

The Paulins, with the help of dozens of people they have pulled in for the project, have spearheaded the donation and recycling of more than 1.6 million aluminum tabs (it takes 1,267 of them to make a pound) to help raise money for the two Ronald McDonald Houses in Phoenix. The houses provide a place to stay for parents of children going through hospital treatment who live 30 miles or more outside of Phoenix.

“It’s for a good cause,” said Dick Paulin, who is retired from the accounting and production department of Miller Brewing Co. in Milwaukee. “You see a tab, you bend over and pick it up. It’s really second nature.”

About 10 a.m. on Tuesday, the Paulins and about 20 of their friends will be delivering this year’s bounty of about 500,000 tabs collected since the first Tuesday of May last year. They will donate at least 20 5-gallon buckets filled with them to the Ronald McDonald House at 501 E. Roanoke Ave. in Phoenix. That amount raises the overall total of tabs from nearly five years of collecting to 1.6 million. The group also will give a check to the home for slightly more than $1,000, mostly donated from residents who often attend the coffee and doughnut breakfasts every Tuesday or Thursday night bingo at the neighborhood’s activity center.

“It’s quite a venture that everyone’s involved in,” said Karen Paulin, who works part time at the Mesa Marketplace Swap Meet and volunteers for several causes. “A lot of people are in on this, and collect tabs from other people they know for us. We stay here year-round, but when people go home for summer vacation, they bring their tabs back with them. The community has gotten behind this.”

For the most part, residents drop off Ziploc bags filled with the tabs at the Sunland Springs Village activity center. 

Delivering the tabs the first Tuesday in May has been a tradition for the Paulins for the last few years, but according to a poster rendered by renowned artist Bob Byerly chronicling their progress, the group has reached just half of the goal they first thought they would achieve by May 1, 2008 — the date they initially projected they would have collected one ton of tabs.

“We thought we’d try it, but we had no idea what it would take to reach that amount,” Karen Paulin said. “But, we’re getting there.”

It would take 2,534,000 aluminum tabs to make a ton. Overall, thousands of dollars have been raised for the Ronald McDonald Houses through tabs, a nationwide fundraising project for them that pulls in whatever the going rate for a pound of aluminum brings from recyclers.

Dick Paulin meticulously sorts through the tabs to make sure there’s no “contaminated” ones in the batch, tossing aside metal ones that will stick to a magnet. Early on, he counted the tabs by hand, but said he couldn’t keep up with the volume they were pulling in, so he lets a scale do the rest.

The Paulins also were quick to note that they realize more money would be brought in from collecting aluminum cans, but said the Ronald McDonald Houses only collect the tabs because of the sanitary concerns associated with empty beverage cans.

The Paulins and Janet West also both have personal connections for remaining dedicated to the project.

The Paulins initially began collecting tabs for their daughter, Donna Peck of Wisconsin, to benefit their grandson Joseph Peck, 12, who regularly has had hospital stays since he was 3 due to Asperger syndrome, a form of autism.

West’s daughter and son-in-law also have benefitted from other peoples’ tab contributions and have stayed at a Ronald McDonald House in California. West’s grandson, Tate Goodman, who lives in Hollywood, Calif., was born with polycystic disease of the kidneys. Tate, who recently turned 1 year old, is on dialysis and awaiting a kidney transplant. 

“When we started collecting tabs, I said, ‘Let’s go for a ton of tabs,’. Sunland Village has 3,000 residents, how hard can that be? I can’t imagine anyone seeing a tab on the ground and walking past it, knowing what a difference it can make. We won’t stop collecting tabs until there aren’t any kids staying in hospitals.”

The Paulins’ sentiments about their mission echoed West’s.

Karen Paulin said, “It’s our way of giving back.

“We’re not going to stop collecting tabs,” Dick Paulin said. “There’s always going to be kids going to the hospital and their parents need a place to stay.”

Of their years and dedication of collecting the tabs, Steve Carr, a spokesman for the Ronald McDonald Houses in Phoenix, perhaps summed it up best:

“It’s just amazing,” Carr said.

Each of the last three years, the Ronald McDonald Houses in Phoenix have averaged $5,000 from about 10,000 pounds of pull tabs being donated to them from donations throughout the Valley, according to Tami Bohannon, development director for the Ronald McDonald Houses of Phoenix.

The homes receive about 50 cents per pound for the aluminum tabs, according to Bohannon.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6533 or msakal@evtrib.com

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