ST. BONIFACE — The 17th assembly of Tabs for Wheelchairs was held May 21 at Holy Cross School Gym for the presentation of the 16th specialized wheelchair. This project was started 17 years ago by Gwen Buccini, librarian at Holy Cross School. “My intention is by the 20th anniversary we are going to have 20 chairs, so in one of these three years we need more tabs collected so at the 20th anniversary I want to have two chairs.”
The pull-tabs are collected from pop cans and sold by weight to recycling facilities.
Buccini said, “Who would have believed 17 years ago that this program would still be existing and so successful? Truly it is because of thousands of faithful collectors and of course, the media who have continuously given us coverage over the years. Presently we have about 80 school and 50 businesses in the province of Manitoba that are saving for us.
Bucinni was joined by Maralee Caruso from CTC News, a friend of this year’s recipient Bryce Thiessen, to help with the presentation. Caruso was amazed at the wall of tab bags in the gym and remarked “It was an unbelievable challenge you (Gwen) took on 17th years ago and to think that you could collect enough tabs for just one wheelchair is amazingly enough but 16 wheelchairs is really something.”
Bucinni expressed her thanks to the many people and businesses that “go above and beyond in their contributions and dedication”: Royal Canadian Legion #3 in Brandon who collected millions and millions of tabs throughout southwestern Manitoba for the past 14-15 years; St. Boniface Bag who supply the collection/storage bags free of charge; Reimer Express Lines who continue to transfer the tabs free of charge; Western Scrap Metal who receive the tabs and provide the best price per pound and HT Mobility who assist in the ordering of each specialized wheelchair. She also thanked the various staff members of Holy Cross School and recognized the various organizations/groups who were in attendance.
Maralee Caruso was called upon to present Bryce with his new wheelchair. Bryce is a 19-year-old who attends West Kildonan Collegiate. He loves guitar music and is a huge sports fan and participates on two bowling teams — Youth Bowling Council and Special Olympics. Bryce enjoys watching hockey and collects sports and novelty hats.
Bryce’s mother, Diane Thiessen, expressed her appreciation on behalf of Bryce and their family. She indicated the old chair had been falling apart one piece at a time and was repaired with spare parts from another wheelchair; taped and bungee-corded together and the brakes don’t actually work.
Thiessen stated the chair means a lot to Bryce and explained the parts that were important. “The gel seat cushion allows him to sit comfortably for long periods of time and the special back rest with the shoulder supports that are here helps to support Bryce so that he can use his iPad and type on the computer. The specialized seating supports also helps Bryce remain in a better position for eating and better breath supports for speaking, which are things we all take for granted. We really don’t think about it when we are sitting, but there very, very important for basic daily needs.”
Thiessen said his reaction when he first saw his wheelchair “was the same as any teenager when he gets his first car. That’s what it means to him and that’s what’s important.”
Bryce, through his mother, thanked everyone for collecting tabs so he could get his wheelchair. Jessica Rempel will be next year’s recipient. She was in attendance with her mother and father. She is 18 years old and will be graduating from Garden Valley Collegiate in Winkler. She was born with spina bifida and has spinal nerve damage to her lower spine and has been in a wheelchair all of her life. A specialized wheelchair with the capability of being elevated in order for her to work in the kitchen and give her greater mobility will help her become more independent and one day live on her own.
The tabs keep coming in. They are loaded in storage bags and stored until next year when the next recipient will receive her wheelchair which hopefully will change her life.