By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia
Typically, parents and teachers don't encourage children to drink more soft drinks. But when it involves a lesson in community service, it's OK to bend the rules.
Junior 4-H club members across Georgia recently collected more than 6 million aluminum pop tabs. Individually, they may appear worthless. But, together, all those little pieces of aluminum weighed a little more than 2 tons and were worth $1,900.
"The 4-H District Junior Board of Directors voted last summer to collect the pop tabs as a fund-raiser for the Ronald McDonald House of Central Georgia," said Lori Purcell, program development coordinator for Georgia's Central District 4-H office.
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"The money from the recycled aluminum," she said, "will help buy furnishings for the house."
The Ronald McDonald House Pop Tab Collection Program began in 1987. To date, more than 400 million pop tabs have been collected, generating more than $300,000.
The students used gallon milk jugs to collect the tabs and to give the project a unit of measure. The top collections came from Jackson County with 101 gallons. Columbia County collected 95.5 gallons, and Houston County gathered 94 gallons.
Motivated by food and community service
The winning county 4-H'ers credit their success to pizza.
"Like most kids, our students can be easily motivated by the promise of a pizza party," said Wanda McLocklin, the Jackson County 4-H program coordinator. "They enjoy helping the community and are very community-oriented. And they really love pizza, too."
More than 500 students in Jackson County participated in the project.
Kids in Columbia County, the second-place winners, were motivated by pizza, too.
"They'll do anything for pizza, so we incorporated a pizza party into this community service project," said Columbia County 4-H program assistant Paula Poss. "Our fifth-graders earn points all year long for a variety of projects. The top class is then rewarded with a free day to Rock Eagle's Environmental Education Program."
Moms, dads and friends all pitched in
One Columbia County class collected 49 gallons of pop tabs.
"Mrs. Reed's class collected tabs from their churches, their neighbors and their parents' offices," Poss said.
Besides earning pizza, the students are improving their character skills, Poss said, by learning to share and to care.
"This project is an easy one, as the pop tabs don't take up much room in a classroom or office, and you can still save the pop cans for other projects," she said. "Our office saves the cans for the Joseph Still Burn Center here in Augusta."
(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)