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Family’s pop tab collecting is payback for Ronald McDonald House care

When you pop the top of a soda can or a beer, think about saving the pop tab for Dylan Parry of Homewood.

The Homewood-Flossmoor High School senior and his mom, Brooke King LaBreck, have been collecting the little bits of aluminum for years for the benefit of the Ronald McDonald House. This year, their donation came to approximately 160 pounds of tabs. 

Dylan was born with a congenital defect and spent weeks at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago before he was strong enough to have a life-saving surgery to remove a cyst from his chest cavity where a lung should have developed. The cyst crowded out his other lung and heart.

Traveling between Homewood and the hospital “was just out of the question. I had to be able to run there at a moment’s notice,” LaBreck said. She was able to stay close to Dylan by living at the Ronald McDonald House. 

“Essentially they took every life’s worry off my plate so I could focus on being there for him. It was everything to me,” LaBreck said, and when she checked out and didn’t get a bill, she knew she’d find a way to support the organization. 

“I vowed then that I would do whatever I could to raise awareness and funding for Ronald McDonald House and it started with something as simple as collecting my pop tabs and when Dylan was old enough, he started pestering people for their pop tabs too and that’s how it grew beyond our household,” LaBreck said.

Then Dylan’s neighbor, Willow School second grade teacher Patti Jo Boehm, learned of the family’s efforts and about five years ago decided to make it a project for her class to help them expand their awareness of the needs of others. 

But Boehm hoped to give students a personal connection so they’d understand why they were saving the pop tabs. LaBreck was invited to Willow to present a power point to the class explaining about Dylan’s care and her time at Ronald McDonald House, and how the family made it a year-round project to collect the pop tabs.

The teacher said the personal connection LaBreck offers the students is helping them “understand it more and feel more responsible and more inclined to do something. We have a collection container in our room. We fill that up in no time,” Boehm said. “Kids bring them in plastic bags, and people around school save them for us, too.”

Students at Churchill School and Flossmoor Community Church preschool program are saving the pop tabs too, and friends, families, businesses and the community are learning about Dylan’s efforts and dropping pop tabs off for the collection.

Dylan makes his yearly collection day around the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. LaBreck thought it was a great service project for that day.

“I started documenting how much we’re collecting in 2014 when his school got behind him, it went from an impressive two boxes of pop tabs to now 160 pounds,” LaBreck said. “It’s always surprising when people say all I have is this little baggie, but Dylan and I pick up collections and it is amazing how those turn into a box worth. Everyone counts, every single tab counts in total and it’s really impressive to see how it all adds up.”

LaBreck explained that the pop tab has about the same amount of aluminum as the can. Ronald McDonald House organizers store up the donations until they’re ready to sell them on the market. The money helps cover costs for families staying at the Ronald McDonald House.

“It’s such a small thing that everyone can participate in. Our ability to make a big impact with this was greatly enhanced with such a caring community behind us,” she said.

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