Give the late Barbara Klassen an aluminum- can tab and she would have loved you forever. Through teary-red eyes, her younger brother, George Klassen, remembers a thoughtful woman who only wanted to help.
"She was my only sister," said George. "She was my best friend."
George was at Victory School in Winnipeg recently doing his big sister a favour by donating, on her behalf, more than 113 kilograms of drink tabs to the Seven Oaks School Division tabs-collection committee.
Barbara and her three brothers grew up on a dairy farm in Blumenfeld, two hours southwest of Winnipeg. During an emergency kidney surgery at six months old, Barbara suffered brain damage due to lack of oxygen. George explained that as a result, even as she grew older, she had the mind of a six-year-old.
Despite her disability, Barbara was a good friend to many, he said. She proved this in 1999 by deciding to collect the aluminum-can tabs to help buy a wheelchair for a family friend with multiple sclerosis. In no time, she had friends and family constantly bringing over drink tabs.
"Let's say someone handed you $1,000. You'd probably be pretty excited, right? Well, that's how she was every time she received a drink can," her brother said, looking at a photo of his sister taken two days before she died. "We threw her a surprise 40th birthday party... When she opened a gift, it had a canned drink in it. Well, it's like she won a million dollars right there."
George estimates she probably collected 1.5 million tabs over the years.
"When she had something on her mind, there was no stopping her, no way," he said.
Little did Barbara know the Seven Oaks School Division tabs-collection committee in Winnipeg was collecting can tabs for a similar reason.
The committee was created in 2003 to raise money to buy bikes, trikes, wheelchairs and mobility devices for students with special needs. By collecting can tabs and donations, they have been able to help nine students. The program quickly took off through partnerships with other schools, charity organizations and churches.
"In 2005, we'd already collected over three million tabs," said Carol Anandranistakis, committee representative and secretary at Victory School.
Sandy Loewen, committee representative and physiotherapist at the Winnipeg Rehabilitation Centre for Children, said to purchase a standard specialized tricycle, they would need more than 71/2 million tabs. The trikes are important to students, giving them physical activity and freedom to enjoy their surroundings.
"It certainly contributes to their quality of life and participation in the community and at school," Loewen said.
George agrees, recalling his sister growing out of her own tricycle as a child and becoming unable to participate in family activities.
"If a family with a challenged child can go for a bike ride, that's priceless," George said. "If that child stays at home and the others go, they know. They know what they're missing out on."
The tabs George gave the committee on Barbara's behalf were brought to the scrap-metal dealer Wednesday, bringing in $127 toward the next child's bike.
Barbara died of a seizure on Aug. 15, 2011. George recalled his favourite memory of his sister by pointing to her picture. They went to a festival two days before she died, where George said she loved to meet new people.
As George wiped away tears remembering his sister, the sound of children heading out to recess filled the air at Victory School.
"She's definitely left a legacy."