10 million pop-tabs: How an Iowa girl is helping a 96-year-old reach her lifetime goal

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SHELBY, Iowa – Lakewood Elementary School in Norwalk and the community of Shelby in western Iowa don’t have too much in common, except for two Iowans who want to give back in a similar way.

Donations to the Ronald McDonald House pop tab program make a big difference, especially when brought together in large quantities. Turns out collecting pop tabs created an unlikely friendship.

Aletha Buck is 96 years old and has been collecting pop tabs for more than a quarter of a century.

“It was in 1995 when we saw this in the auxiliary newsletter,” Aletha said. “We read it at our meeting, and then we all decided we could do it.”

Throughout the years, several people have given Aletha the tiny metal pieces.

“I just got more excited when I got more tabs and started counting them,” Aletha said. “And I thought, ‘well, you know, that might be alright to count them just to see how many we can get.’”

Pretty soon, her goal became to collect 10 million pop tabs. She’s kept strict records to keep track of them.

Enter 11-year-old Eliza McLaughlin whose journey of generosity started when she turned 9.

“Me and my best friend had a birthday party together, and instead of getting presents we asked for money so we could get necessities for the Ronald McDonald house,” Eliza said. “And then we got the toys and things like that and then we brought them to the Ronald McDonald house.”

Eliza’s effort expanded to collecting pop tabs, where she received help from her community and school.

When Eliza found out about Aletha’s goal of 10 million from her principal, she and her mom made the trip to Aletha’s house to unpack what they collected.

“I was amazed by how much, and I knew that we could help her in a way,” Eliza said.

The counting commenced, and Aletha was grateful.

“To have somebody that age giving them to us when you could’ve kept them for yourself is really nice and really thoughtful,” Aletha said. “I really appreciate it.”

A thank-you note from Aletha told Eliza her donation brought the grand total to 9,910,000 pop tabs. A project so close to its goal, yet one that creates countless memories and a treasured bond along the way.

Eliza and her mom plan to make another trip to Aletha’s house this week to drop off more pop tabs, with hopes of finally surpassing the goal of 10 million.

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