She believes small things can make a difference for others

One aluminum tab might not seem like much, but for one Hillsboro woman, each tab contributes toward supporting families with a place to stay when their loved ones need lengthy hospital care.

Eileen Butler, a retired Hillsboro Elementary School teacher, has become passionate about collecting the tabs for the Wichita Ronald McDonald House, and her enthusiasm is catching on around the community.

?This fall, it will be four years collecting tabs,? she said, ?and it has become my passion.?

In the last three years, and with the help of others donating to the project, Butler said about $5,000 a year has been raised for the Wichita house.

In three years, Butler said she has taken more than 140 pounds of tabs to one of the Ronald McDonald Houses in Wichita, and she?s about ready to take another 70 pounds.

When someone envisions the size of a tab, she said, collecting more than 140 pounds of them translates into ?a lot of tabs.?

?This is a project that everybody can do,? she said.

Some people have asked her, ?Why not take the whole aluminum can??

Butler said it?s not only a storage issue, but a transportation problem as well. The tabs take less space, making it a project anyone can do, she said.

One Sunday about three years ago, Butler said she led storytime for children at the United Methodist Church in Hillsboro.

She described the Ronald McDonald House and how each child could help families needing a place to stay by saving tabs.

As an incentive, Butler gave the children banks shaped like the Ronald McDonald House and challenged each to save tabs inside the bank.

Not long after, Butler was getting lots of banks back, and other children were asking for them so they could save tabs, too.

Butler said she was first inspired to collect the tabs when she learned about Mark and Tina King and their infant daughter, Tristan.

The Kings? little girl, she said, had a genetic defect that affected her heart, which meant she would spend a lot of her young life in a Wichita hospital.

Three Ronald McDonald Houses are located in Wichita, and one became the Kings? home away from home, until their daughter died.

Following Tristan?s death in 2006, her parents wanted to honor her by asking the Hillsboro community to save tabs from aluminum cans, thereby helping other families needing a place to stay.

Judy Penner, a cook at Hillsboro Elementary School, told her mother about the project. In turn, Penner?s mother said she would do her part by joining the cause and spreading the message about the King family.

Penner?s mother wrote a column in the Syracuse newspaper, and in no time, along with the help of other residents and staff, she had collected more than four gallons of tabs.

?The last gallon,? she said, ?was filled in two months.?

Penner would then take the tabs to Wichita; proceeds went to the Ronald McDonald House.

?People with children get priority at Ronald McDonald Houses,? Butler said. ?If parents cannot pay, it is free.?

In addition to giving families a place to stay, other charitable groups and individuals contribute paper products or food.

For many families who have spent long days at the hospital, one less thing they have to worry about is cooking a meal because different businesses and organizations provide meals daily.

When it comes to charitable efforts, many people cannot afford to contribute large amounts of cash, but Penner?s mother said she enjoys helping in her own way.

?There are a lot of things we cannot take part in due to our current stage of life,? she said, ?but this project is a great way for us (residents at a living center) to look beyond ourselves.?

According to information provided by the Ronald McDonald House in Kansas City,?Mo., last year more than 50,000 pounds of pop tabs was equivalent to more than $20,000 toward helping families needing a home away from home.

Anyone interested in donating tabs can either drop them off at the United Methodist Church, 905 East D St.; Ampride, 512 East D St.; or Hillsboro City Hall, 118 E. Grand Ave.

The tabs are stored at the church until Butler has enough to transport to Wichita.

For more information about Ronald McDonald Houses or donating, call Butler at 947-3021.

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