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54,000 and Counting

Students at Forest Edge Elementary School collect tabs for Ronald McDonald House.

One tab at a time. For four years now, that has been Curt Clinton’s rallying cry. Since 2000, and with the help of students and staff from Forest Edge Elementary School in Reston, Clinton has been steadily collecting the little aluminum tabs off the tops of used soda and beer cans. Now, 54,500 tabs later, Clinton’s is wrapping up his collection. “It’s been a labor of love,” said Clinton, a substitute teacher in Fairfax County schools. “The credit, however, really goes to the kids here at Forest Edge. I can’t say enough about them.”

Four years ago, Clinton began collecting his tabs. He took his collection to Forest Edge, a school where his children attend, and challenged the students to participate in his drive. By all accounts, they met that challenge. One girl brought in 4,500 tabs and one boy brought in 2,600 tabs, Clinton said. “This is a great school. We have had 10K’s or walk-a-thons for charity, but I thought this would be something new and fun for the kids,” he said. “I never dreamed how much we would get. That’s a lot of Coke.”

This week, Clinton plans to take the bags of tabs, which weigh more than 43 pounds, to the Northern Virginia chapter of the Ronald McDonald House in Falls Church. The Ronald McDonald House is trying to reach one million tabs. The proceeds from the recycled tabs are used to purchase food for the families of young patients undergoing treatment at Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children. Clinton, for one, is proud of Reston’s contribution. “In reality, all of these tabs will only raise about $250 or $300. It is not about the money, at all. This is a vehicle of recognition and appreciation, kind of like a moment of silence,” the drive’s organizer said. “It really is about keeping the plight of those kids — those patients, our friends — in our thoughts and prayers. Those aren’t just 54,000 lift tabs, they represent 54,000 seconds that were spent thinking about those kids.”

Clinton says he hopes that when students at Forest Edge grow up, they might think back on this charitable drive and pull out their checkbooks to write a check to a charity like the Ronald McDonald House. “People ask me why a grown man like me is busy keeping collecting tabs,” Clinton said. “I do it because it feels good. This is my tea in the afternoon.”

More than anything, Clinton hopes that other Reston school’s will be inspired to follow Forest Edge’s lead and start their own charity drive. “If we could get a little friendly challenge going, that would be great,” Clinton said. “If we did it, surely another school can do it. I hope they take this challenge.”