September 6, 2007

Ann Luther ‘Keeping Tabs’ On Ronald McDonald House of Mid-Missouri

Opening a can of soda makes that distinctive sound that most people associate with the ensuing first refreshing drink. For one Memphis woman, that resonance has been replaced instead by the noise of a cash register. But the tone tolls not for another sale, but instead for another dollar raised for a mid-Missouri charity that has touched several locals.

Of course noise is the last thing Ann Luther makes about her efforts on behalf of the Ronald McDonald House of Mid-Missouri. The Memphis resident just goes quietly about her business helping support the home in Columbia that offers lodging to parents of children receiving medical care at one of the city’s hospitals or treatment facilities.

As a matter of fact, Luther can’t even tell you how long she has been at her efforts to support the worthy cause.

“I can’t remember how long I have been doing this,” she shyly says trying to skirt the limelight, not the question. “Time flies, but I’d say a safe estimate is five years.”

Most area residents will tell you the figure is more like 10 years that Luther has been collecting aluminum can tabs for the Columbia home. The recycling efforts help raise needed funds to support the Ronald McDonald Home.

According to its annual report, in 2006, the Ronald McDonald Home of Mid-Missouri lodged over 600 families, providing an over-night stay on more than 7,000 cases.

The facility’s estimated $350,000 budget is largely generated by sponsors and various fundraisers. Guests that can afford to pay are asked to donate up to $30 per night, but most are unable to meet the suggested pay schedule.

That’s where folks like Luther come in.

Anywhere from four to eight times a year she packs up her car and heads to Columbia to deliver a load of can tabs.

She was preparing for such a trip last weekend when she called in to the popular KMEM General Store program to ask the radio station to announce her plans to make the trip the following morning.

“I had half a trunk load full of tabs, so I wanted to give everyone a chance to get their items to me to take down,” Luther stated. “ I won’t be surprised if when I leave tomorrow that trunk isn’t totally full.”

Local groups like 4-H, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts typically provide large quantities of tabs through their own collection drives. Luther said churches and other community organizations also have helped raise awareness of the cause.

“There are lots of regulars who do their part collecting the tabs, but there are by far more people that I don’t even know that have heard we do this and they just drop by, or leave their bags of tabs in the garage,” she said.

Luther practices an open-garage door policy, meaning anyone that wants to make a donation simply can leave them at her home in Memphis.

The program started in 1987, and since then Ronald McDonald Homes across the nation have raised more than $4 million by recycling more than 400 million tabs. It takes more than 1,250 tabs to equal a pound of aluminum for recycling.

While Luther doesn’t recall when she joined forces with the Columbia home’s tab collections, she knows why she did it.

“I saw firsthand the impact the Ronald McDonald Home had on several families from our community,” she said. “This is something almost anyone can do, and once I tried it, I found out that folks were very responsive.”

Luther’s first tab drive started in her church Sunday School class. It soon spread to the entire church and since has encompassed all of Scotland County with numerous donors even from outside that scope.

She has since expanded her efforts to include collecting financial donations as well as gifts of travel-sized soaps and other assorted toiletries that can be handed out to the home’s overnight guests.

In 2006 Scotland County had no fewer than six families use the home.

“That is why I do it,” Luther said. “When I first started, I saw the families and how they benefited from the Ronald McDonald Home, and still do.”

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