Ronald McDonald, pull tabs, and American giving

I just filled out a survey from kiva, a charity I admire and support, and that got me thinking about something I’ve been half-intending to post about, so here goes. A while back, a friend of mine said a group she belongs to was going to collect pull-tabs from soft drink cans for the Ronald McDonald house. She said she’d heard that the pull tabs weigh more than the can. I said I’d heard that too, but when I got home I thought “that just can’t be true” so I looked it up, and it’s not.

But this where it gets complicated – there’s been an urban legend circulating for years that if you bring sacks of these tabs to the recycle center, the Reynolds people will use them to fund dialysis. Or something like that. You may have seen the emails. So, the Ronald McDonald people decided that if people were going to save the darn things anyway, they might as well get in on it, so now you can drop them in the lid of cute little houses, and the Ronald McDonald people get a little bit of cash, eventually.

There are many sites where this whole confused issue is discussed, but I found this post, and its comment thread, fascinating. There’s the whole issue of the McDonald Houses using the pull tab thing to “build goodwill” since even they have to admit that at $1.49 for 4,175 tabs, they’re not going to get rich off of it. Then there’s the lady staunchly defending her nine-year-old, who led his entire school in the effort to yield $38 for Ronald. Who can put a price on the value of teaching a child to give?! etc.

Okay, this is what I think. (You knew I’d be getting to that.)

First, how can so many people—me included, until I looked it up—believe that a pull tab weighs more than the whole can? For God’s sake. No wonder we’re having a lending crisis.

Second, to paraphrase Michelle Obama, I’m just so proud to be American. Here we are, encouraging our kids to support charity by dropping just PART of the otherwise recyclable can from their carbonated, HFCS-sweetened drink—in other words, a bit of trash—into a bin for the less fortunate.

My kids never trick-or-treated for Unicef. Hell, they wanted candy. They’re not exactly leading the EYC now, either. So I don’t know, maybe a pull tab program would have made them better people. But to me there’s just something wrong with diverting a tiny part of your garbage stream from an unnecessary, unhealthy product and then patting yourself on the back for being a “giver.”

By the way,  the Ronald McDonald houses are “seeded” with a donation from the RMHC foundation, and after that get only about 10% of their annual operating budget from McDonald’s. (How’s that for cheap goodwill?) They need a heck of a lot more than your pulltabs.

7 Responses to “Ronald McDonald, pull tabs, and American giving”

  1. Kathy says:

    When 15YOD was in Girl Scouts, her troop visited the Ronald McDonald House here in Birmingham, and we listened to a long spiel on the benefits of the pull tab. We dutifully filled our little cardboard house to overflowing and then resorted to zip-lock bags. I’m pretty sure my mother finally took all of them home with her to give to another worthy cause.

    This sounds similar to Locks of Love, which I understand ends up discarding most of the donated hair it receives. It’s a nice feel-good for the donors, but what the non-profits really need is cash.

  2. Del says:

    OMG, I had no idea Locks of Love threw out most of its hair. That is awful. There are eight-year-olds bravely cutting off hair it’s taken them more than half their little lives to grow. At least Jo March was able to sell hers and give the money to Marmee.

  3. B says:

    Tell me Locks of Love isn’t throwing hair out. No disrespect for eight year olds, but I sent them 2 feet of braid I’d been growing for over thirty years. I sure hope that didn’t end up in the trash.

  4. Del says:

    B, I did a lot of reading after Kathy’s comment, and from what I could tell, L of L (according to their detractors) they receive far more hair than they can ever use. Some of the hair is made into wigs (a few sites quoted numbers that seemed to be rather low) but a lot of it is sold to overseas wig manufacturers, at prices far lower than market. The money goes to run the charity, including paying the salary of its director, of course.

    I don’t think your hair ended up in the trash, but if what these people are saying is true, it may have ended up on the head of a rich gal with no medical problems – or perhaps on the stage! Imagine your beautiful hair tumbling down the back of an opera singer as she appears, wild-eyed and disheveled in her snow-white nightie, for the mad scene in Lucia di Lammermoor.

    There are other places to send hair these days – I think Pantene is running one – and there seem to be legit places online where you can sell it for a pretty penny. And keep the money for yourself – or even give some, or all, to charity.

  5. Del says:

    B – here’s a story in the NY Times I missed the other day, although I now realize some of the sites I visited referenced it.

    Another issue I read about is how strangers now feel comfortable approaching girls or women with long hair and demanding that they donate. Sheesh.

  6. Kathy says:

    Bottom line? Donate cash. Non-profits can get grant money, but it’s usually designated for a specific project, not for general operating funds. Or donate in-kind contributions, like volunteer time or office supplies.

    And I say that as someone whose daughter has sent two ponytails to Locks of Love and would donate myself if they wanted gray hair. Non-profits need to pay rent, utilities, and salaries. And they need our time. They can find big donors to give to the marquee causes; they need us for the regular stuff.

  7. Lyle Frederick says:

    I have been donating my tabs to Ronald McDonald House for a while. It is one way I try to help. I do not have that many, but I hope when added to the others it will. I wish I had the cash, but I am not able to do this.
    Here is the link on the RMH site that talks about the pop-top donations.

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