Last year, St. Mary’s School started a challenge between classrooms to see who could collect the most pop tabs. Librarian Danelle Ulrick tells the story of how food collecting became tab collecting: “We did a challenge of collecting food the previous year, but with food inflation, we didn’t want students taking food out of their cabinets. Each year, the class that collects the most (tabs or food) gets to be served first on our food truck day on the last day of regular classes in June.”
“In searching for a place to donate all of our tabs after the competition, we discovered that the Elks Foundation will take time to assist in making hospital equipment for Alberta Hospitals,” Ulrick said. It was during that search that the school discovered a secret ally in their collecting crusade: Pete Leniuk, a former Taberite, who has been collecting and counting tabs for the better part of six years. He offered to donate his collection to the school’s cause.
“In September, our school arranged to have the Elks Foundation from Brooks and Pete Leniuk to come to the school to load up all of the tabs our community collected,” Ulrick said. “We are continuing to collect this year.”
This past November, Ulrick contacted the Times with a request, saying, “It would be nice if you could do a story about this, as Pete makes regular trips to Taber and other areas to collect from golf courses, bars, friends, colleagues etc. to reach his next goal. St. Mary’s School plays a small part in this, but it is really Pete’s journey that needs some accolades.” So the Times did just that, but received no response either before or after Christmas, so the story was shelved. It turned out to simply be a case of a man away at work in the far north and a man at odds with the voicemail updates on his iPhone.
On Jan. 5, we got a surprise call from Pete, and the story was resurrected. “I delivered 11 totes to the school for Danelle,” he told us. “There were 449 lbs in those 11 totes.” He has the pictures to prove it.
It all started when he began sending tabs to a little girl in Newfoundland who was taking them into Ronald McDonald House. Karlee MacDonald, now six years old, was born with a hole in her heart and surgeons operated on her at 27 days old. Pete knows Karlee’s dad from work, and the girl is now healthy and lending a helping hand to a good cause.
Since then, Pete has kept right on collecting and connecting with folks who send him their tabs. “I just keep collecting them in bars, golf courses, and curling clubs. I count them.” And here’s the astonishing part: “I’m sitting at just over 1,301,000 right now.” That’s right, 1.3 million.
So, how does a guy keep track of that? “I have a journal and I count them in the morning, usually when I’m sitting in the garage having a coffee. I have 694 friends on Facebook and a bunch of them collect them, and they just message me when they have a bunch. I make a road trip, pick them up, and count them. Then I take them all to the school.”
It’s almost unbelievable. “That’s what the guy with the Elks said when they came to get them from the school. We filled up five 45 gallon barrels full,” Pete said, noting tabs are a different type of aluminum than the cans and are melted down. “Then they sell the aluminum by weight for whatever the going price is for that day and the money goes to the organization.”
“People bring me freezer bags full,” he said. “They bring them and I just write their name on them, and when I count them, I count one person at a time.” When he’s working up north he has jugs in the coffee room. “Everybody camps and drinks beer and pop, and they bring them into work for me.”
Pete lived in Taber for 22 years, and then in Lethbridge before moving to Nanton five years ago. The location works well because he flies out of Calgary to go to work for his seven days out and it puts him closer to the airport. Plus, he has a son and two grandkids who live in Nanton and he likes to be near to them. He has a daughter, son-in-law, and grandkids in Lethbridge as well. He lost his wife 11 years ago to cancer, and said he sold his former house because he felt it was too hard to go back there and try to move on with his life at the same time. So now he works, spends time with family, and tabulates tabs.
“I’ve only heard of one other person who collected the tabs, counted them and hit one million,” he said. “It was an 82-year-old lady in Wisconsin. She went and walked every morning and dumpster dived, because they don’t have a recycle program in the U.S. She collected the tabs and counted them and when she had a million she donated them to Ronald McDonald House.”
“The guys at work are bugging me, saying I should contact the Guinness Book of World Records. I don’t need no recognition. I collect them for Karlee and I give them to Danelle now for the school.”
By Cal Braid, Local Journalism Initiative reporter
Original Published on Jan 22, 2024 at 11:48