During the last decade or so, 84-year-old Gerard Masse has collected 86,000 soda pull tabs, recycled them and then donated the proceeds to the Providence Ronald McDonald House (PRMH), a non-profit organization that provides housing and support programs to hospitalized children and their families.
Masse is on track to donate 45,725 more tabs – and counting.
“I just keep saving them,” he said from the living room of his Cranston home. “When I see my friends with a can of soda, I take the tab off.”
Masse, who’s originally from Worcester, Mass., has resided in Cranston for 40 years and started collecting tabs more than 10 years ago after he and his wife Anna attended an exhibition in Springfield, Mass. As they entered the event, they noticed a room that showcased tabs and became interested in finding out why they were on display.
After looking around for a bit, they realized Hasbro Children’s Hospital was responsible for the exhibit.
“Hasbro collects the tabs and sends them to Berger Recycling in Pawtucket,” Masse said.
The Berger recycling company awards approximately 60 cents per pound of tabs that are turned in.
“Hasbro donates that money to the Ronald McDonald House,” Masse explained.
Not long after they learned about Hasbro’s mission to help the PRMH, their then-2-year-old family friend, Nathan Barnett, who is now 12, became ill. He had a tumor the size of a golf ball at the base of his brain stem.
“He was in intensive care for 42 days and they thought he was going to die,” said Masse’s daughter, Beth Masse. “But the surgery went really well and he’s right back where he needs to be.”
Knowing Hasbro and the PRMH assist children and their families like Nathan’s, Masse donated 21,000 tabs in Nathan’s name. To raise awareness about the mission, Hasbro staff members visited the hospital’s children’s wards with Nathan in tow.
“You wouldn’t believe how many people don’t know what the Ronald McDonald House is all about,” Masse said. “The parents stay overnight at no cost. That’s a biggie.”
The PRMH, located at 45 Gay Street, Providence, allows families to spend more time with their child while helping to ease financial burdens. The Ronald McDonald House aims to keep families together in a homelike environment during times of crisis. Guests are provided not only with housing, but food and recreational activities.
If a family can afford it, the PRMH asks guests to pay $10 per night they stay in the home. However, if that’s not possible, they can stay at no cost.
“I have my heart and soul in this project,” Masse said. “It does something to me. When you’re able to do something and you see good come on out, it is great. It brings tears to my eyes.”
In turn, his commitment to the cause touches the hearts of staff members at the PRMH. Chief Executive Officer of the Ronald McDonald House Michael Fantom, who has been in correspondence with Masse since 2006, said people like Masse help them keep their doors open.
“When people are taking the top off the can, for a few seconds they are thinking about the Ronald McDonald House and the families that need our services,” he said Monday. “It’s a great support for our family community.”
From September 2010 to September 2011, Fantom said the proceeds of 4,200 pounds of pop tabs, which translates to 6 million pop tabs, were donated to the PRMH. He acknowledges that is a “mission of love” and noted that pop tab collectors often get discouraged that it takes millions of tabs to generate substantial funds.
Fantom urged them not to lose motivation.
“We get about $4,000 a year towards our budget from the pop tabs and it’s all good because every time a pop tab is collected, they are supporting the Ronald McDonald House,” he said. “If you imagine 12 ounces of liquid in each can, that would mean that 72 million fluid ounces is being drunk to raise money for the Ronald McDonald House. That’s quite a lot.”
Beth also spoke of the importance of people getting involved. She said she and her father hope to raise more awareness for the cause.
“It takes more than one person to make a difference,” Beth said. “If we have hundreds of people doing it, the money would really add up.”
To Masse’s delight, his friends often give him tabs. He is grateful to his buddies at the Cranston Senior Center, as well as Town Hall Lanes in Johnston for making contributions.
But his efforts don’t stop there. Due to correspondence Masse had with Fantom, Berger recently set up an account for Masse specifically for aluminum cans, the funds of which are donated to the PRMH, of course.
“I take my recycled cans, bring them up there and heave it in an account to the Ronald McDonald House,” Masse said. “That’s a real plus.”