Nunavut residents gather mounds of tabs to buy wheelchair

Taloyoak girl hopes pop cans can bring freedom



A fundraising campaign with a twist could help a disabled girl in Taloyoak get a new wheelchair.

But it might take a long, long time.

Residents of Nunavut communities from Cambridge Bay to Gjoa Haven have been snapping off and collecting aluminum tabs on their empty soft-drink cans for six months on behalf of seven-year-old Mary-Jane Uquqtunnuak.

Family and friends of the girl are coordinating the pop-can tab drive in hopes of finding an organization that will turn the recyclable aluminum into a new set of wheels.

“I know we’re a little over a million now,” said Roger Manilak, an employee of the local health centre who helped start the collection after hearing about a charity in Edmonton, Alta. that sponsored the tabs-for-wheelchair project.

No tabs for chair program?

The problem is, there appears to be no such program. Nor does there appear to exist any registered charity in the country sponsoring pop-can tab drives to raise money for wheelchairs.

“Unfortunately, it’s one of those urban myths,” said Denise Bekkema, executive director of the government-funded Storefront for Volunteer Agencies in Yellowknife.

“We actually get calls, probably about two a year, from people who have collected oodles and oodles of tabs from pop cans and then wanting to donate them to make wheelchairs. But there’s actually no such program.”

According to Bekkema, a better way to find a wheelchair would be through local service clubs or the NWT Council for Disabled Persons.

Still, people from Cambridge Bay to Gjoa Haven and Pelly Bay have been collecting tabs for Mary-Jane as news of the campaign spreads. At the Uquqtunnuak house in Taloyoak, the aluminum tabs are piling up in boxes.

“We’re going to keep trying,” Linda Tucktoo, a supporter of the tab-drive said.

Nobody associated with the Taloyak fundraising effort, not even Mary-Jane’s mother, could explain exactly how they intend to dispose of the growing mountain of aluminum.

Millions of tabs needed

A spokesperson for an Edmonton organization called the Spinal Cord Injury Centre Society (SCICS) told the Nunatsiaq News the going rate for aluminum tabs was 30 cents a pound a couple of years ago when it sold off its own collection. There are about 1,000 tabs in a pound.

“It took eight million, three-hundred thousand aluminum tabs to purchase a manual wheelchair, which cost two-and-a-half thousand dollars,” Louise Miller, SCICS president said.

Miller said it took more than two years to collect the tabs, and that was with the help of every firehall in Edmonton and a number of schools.

At the rate the collection in Taloyoak is currently going, it will be at least several years before the Uquqtunnuaks reach their target.

“These northern kids,” said Manilak optimistically, “they’re well-known for drinking a lot of pop. I’m sure something good’s going to come out of this.”

Speaking from experience, Miller also advised anybody organizing a tab drive to remember that they’ll require a market and, eventually, a means of transportation for the aluminum.

“They’re useless unless you can sell them,” Miller noted.

When asked to reveal the name of her own organization’s buyer, Miller said she couldn’t recall, and “probably wouldn’t share that information, anyway.”

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