A local woman keeping tabs on an annual fundraiser for wheelchairs says the response to this year’s landmark campaign has been "unbelievable."
This year, for the first time, the Tabs for Wheelchairs fundraising event has raised enough money from across the province to buy two wheelchairs for its fortunate recipients. This year marks the campaign’s 15th anniversary.
One wheelchair was given to Kyle, 18, who has a mild form of cerebral palsy that prevents him from being able to jump. He has competed with the Manitoba Wheelchair Sports Association for the past four years, always with a borrowed sports wheelchair.
Luke, 18, also has cerebral palsy and has spent the majority of his life in a wheelchair and now requires a more complex chair to meet his needs.
The campaign was recently celebrated at an event at Holy Cross School in St. Boniface — the place where it all began in the spring of 1998. Since then, the initiative — which involves collecting the tabs from beverage cans — has ballooned to include 156 schools, more than 190 organizations and companies and hundreds of individuals across Winnipeg and Manitoba.
"The amount of tabs being dropped off on a weekly basis is unbelievable. It just keeps growing and growing," said Tabs for Wheelchairs co-ordinator Gwen Buccini, a retired teacher at Holy Cross who started the campaign while working at the school, noting it has now raised a total of 13 wheelchairs.
The concept is simple. Donators collect and fill up "anything from bags, boxes and pop bottles" with tabs and drop them off at the school.
Buccini’s son, Anthony, 28, who has "special needs," helps put all the tabs in big white bags, Buccini said.
"The response has been amazing. There are so many people out there collecting tabs, in places ranging from campgrounds to on the street. This program could not exist without the support of all of the schools, organizations and individuals involved," Buccini said.
The St. Vital resident added the wheelchair for Kyle cost around $5,000, while Luke’s was in the region of $10,000 — a snip considering it was a demonstration model that would cost approximately $27,000 as new.
"One unbelievable thing about what this wheelchair does for Luke is that before, he always had to look up at people. Now he’s at eye level with everyone. When I met him, he said ‘Now I can talk to you.’ It was such an emotional moment," Buccini said.
She said the wheelchairs were purchased from HT Mobility Medical, while she praised the continued support of St. Boniface Bag, which supplies the bags for the tabs, Reimer Express Lines, which transports the tabs, and Western Scrap Metals, which recycles the tabs.
The latter company also has a running tab with campaign organizers, Buccini said. It will donate the proceeds from any donations of cans or metal from community members to the cause.
For more information, or to become part of the program, call the school at 204-237-4936.