News story helps girl get wheelchair



Seven-year old Mary-Jane Uquqtunnuak from Taloyoak will get a new wheelchair, after all.

And friends and family of the girl won’t have to come up with eight million pop-can pull tabs to buy it.

“They didn’t have to save the tabs in the first place,” said Ray Pearse, one of two Legion members from Ontario who started the Tabs-For-Wheelchairs program in southern Canada.

“All they had to do is put her name on a list, we’d have got the wheelchair to her,” he said.

Residents of Taloyoak and communities as far away as Pelly Bay and Cambridge Bay had been sending aluminum tabs to the Uquqtunnuak household since last October, hoping to collect enough to raise money for the wheelchair.

They thought they needed to collect eight million tabs.

Problem is, there’s no scrap dealer nearby and nobody had figured out a way to move the mountain of tabs south to a recycling centre.

A Canadian Press article about the Taloyoak tab collection printed in southern newspapers last week, caught Pearse’s attention.

“If Mary-Jane needs a wheelchair, we’ll endeavor to do our best to get that wheelchair,” said Pearse. “Her name’s on a waiting list and when [her name] comes to the top she gets the wheelchair.”

But Mary-Jane might not have very long to wait.

John Hake, president of the Elora, Ont. branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, said someone who works with a medical supplies company in Stony Creek, Ont. called Dream Catcher Medical Ltd. also read about Mary-Jane’s story and has offered to donate the wheelchair.

A therapist in Taloyoak has since reviewed Mary-Jane’s condition and taken measurements, and will send a prescription for the wheelchair to Pearse at his home in Fergus, Ont.

Pearse and fellow legion member Jack Baumber began collecting and recycling pop-can tabs in 1989, eliciting the help of a volunteer truck drivers and selling them to a Guelph, Ont. recycling plant.

In eastern Canadian provinces, collection efforts are so widespread that a million tabs roll into Guelph every week, according to Pearse. They’ve managed to buy and donate 155 wheelchairs in eight years.

Although the charity could always use another million tabs­a little under a half-tonne of aluminum­he understands the community of Taloyoak may have difficulty getting it all to Winnipeg, the nearest drop-off point.

“If it’s a problem getting them to Winnipeg, then garbage them, bury them some place,” Pearse said.

But Natalie Morin, nurse in charge at the Taloyoak health centre, said she has talked to First Air and is confident the community can get the tabs to Winnipeg.

“Even though Mary-Jane is getting her wheelchair, we’re quite excited by the fact that we can continue on with this, and be able to buy a wheelchair for somebody in some other part of the country,” Morin said.

Born with malformed legs, Mary-Jane has depended on a wheelchair for mobility at school since 1995, according to her mother Julia.

Without a wheelchair at home, however, the girl must rely on others to move around.

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