Karen and Dick Paulin of the Sunland Springs Village

Since 2007, Karen and Dick Paulin of the Sunland Springs Village in Mesa have collected more than six million aluminum can tabs - over 2 tons - to help Ronald McDonald Houses.

Dick Paulin says, “Every little bit adds up.”

The Mesa resident can attest to that.

He and his wife Karen collected over six million soda can tabs, over the last 12 years.

Since 2007, the Paulins have collected tabs for Ronald McDonald Houses in the Valley, raising over $15,000 for the charity – enough to house a family there for a thousand nights. 

Founded in 1974, Ronald McDonald House Charities provide families a more comfortable, affordable alternative to a hotel to stay in while their child is in the hospital. Some families stay for a day, while others stay up to a year, depending on their child’s treatment.

 “It doesn’t take much to take a tab off a can, Dick said. “And we take any tab, it doesn’t have to be soda or beer, you have soup cans that have tabs on them now, cat food, so we take them all.”

The Milwaukee natives moved to Mesa in 2001, and they’ve been ever since, residents of the Sunland Springs Village retirement community.

“We were going to be snowbirds and it took us about five weeks to realize it’s just too nice,” Dick said.

Right after moving to Arizona, their grandson, who was later diagnosed with autism, began frequently spending time in hospitals in Wisconsin while doctors tried to figure out his diagnosis. When they went to visit, they were invited to stay in a Ronald McDonald House.

“It was so wonderful, we kind of got hooked on it. Their availability and the things they do for the people that come in is phenomenal. So, I was really impressed,” Karen explained. 

The two Ronald McDonald Houses in Phoenix and one in Mesa serve families that live more than 35 miles away from the hospital where their child is being treated.

 Families are asked to make a small donation to stay, but if they are unable to pay, they won’t be turned away. 

Karen Paulin said she asked their community director how she and all her neighbors could support the Ronald McDonald Houses in the Valley together.

“So, then we brainstormed, and she said, ‘Okay, why don’t we collect a ton of tabs?’” 

Karen’s reaction was, “Well, that sounds really cool. But how many is a ton of tabs?”  

Dick said there are 2,534,000 in a ton and the couple is currently working on collecting their third ton.

The Paulins collect a majority of the tabs from other residents of Sunland Springs Village, although they will sometimes get calls from those outside of the community who want to donate the tabs they’ve accumulated. 

Every Tuesday morning, members of the community get together for coffee and donuts so the couple can collect the tabs they’ve accumulated.

They also don’t wait for the tabs to come to them.

At bingo every week, Dick said, “We go around checking the floor, anybody who’s finished their soda, we always take the tab off of that.”

Once collected, he sorts through the tabs with a large magnet in order to pull out the pieces of steel or other junk that get mixed in with the aluminum. 

The tabs are then stored in five-gallon paint buckets until the first Tuesday in May each year, when they are taken down to the Roanoke House in Phoenix, the largest Ronald McDonald House in the Valley. They are then recycled by an outside vendor. 

“We have like a tag-along that day, people go with, and we take pictures of them dumping the tabs, it’s kind of a fun thing,” Karen said. 

Dick laughed and added, “Then we always have a Dutch treat lunch somewhere, I mean seniors can’t go out if we don’t have something to eat.” 

The couple doesn’t just donate the tabs, however.

They also do fundraising and cook dinners once a month for the families staying at one of the houses. 

For the past five years, the Paulins have served dinner, along with other volunteers from their community, at the Ronald McDonald House in Mesa. 

Every night, other volunteers and organizations come in and cook meals for those staying at the house. 

 “They provide the food so that the parents at the hospital, when they come back, they don’t have to worry about what I’m going to do about supper? Where’s my next meal?” Dick explained.

Collecting the tabs has become somewhat of a habit for the couple, they said. 

“We’ve already been on vacation with some friends, and they had a cocktail party for everybody that was staying at the resort,” Karen said. “After the party was done, the four of us went around to the dumpsters, and we were picking the cans out and popping the tabs off.”

“And one of the people that was working there came by and said, ‘What are you guys doing?’ Then we told him about the Ronald McDonald House and so they got right in there and they were helping us pull all the tabs off,” said added. “It’s so crazy.”

They don’t add too many cans themselves, though Karen sad, “I pop a few Diet Coke cans.” 

The Paulins need slightly over a million more tabs to complete their next ton, but said they have no intention of slowing down.

“We’ll collect the tabs until there are no children in the hospital,” Dick said. “That’s not going to happen, unfortunately, but it just means were going to continue to do this as long as we can.”

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