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They're pulling for Xanthe

February 24, 1999

Pull tabsBy RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer




GREENCASTLE, Pa. -- You can hear Charles Gomer coming by the jingle in his pockets.

It's not money, it's those pull tabs that come on aluminum beverage cans.

Gomer, 77, has been collecting tabs since 1982, about 28 pounds worth so far. He weighed some once and found out that 1,000 tabs weigh 14 ounces.

He started to collect them in 1982 because he had heard that they could be turned in for free dialysis treatments. A co-worker was suffering from kidney disease and getting regular dialysis treatments. "I spread the word and people started saving them for me. Every time they saw me they would give me some. I always had a bunch in my pocket."

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By 1991 he had learned that pull tabs could not be traded for the medical treatments but he kept on collecting anyway. It had become a habit.

Gomer, who has lived on Gomer Road near chambersburg, Pa., all of his life except for combat duty in World War II, is retired from jobs on the railroad and Letterkenny Army Depot.

In January he learned from a neighbor that some school children in Greencastle were collecting pull tabs to help out a fellow student. He decided to contribute his entire collection to their cause.

The students' effort stems from an Dec. 11 accident in which Xanthe Hilton, a Greencastle-Antrim Elementary School fourth grader, was struck by a car. Seriously injured, she was taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

Her parents, Donald Hilton and Karin Johnson, stay at a Ronald McDonald house near the hospital so they could be with their daughter. Named after its clown mascot, the giant restaurant chain set up homes near major hospitals so parents can be near their children. Staying in a Ronald McDonald House saves parents on hotel and other costs.

Xanthe has since been moved to a transitional school near the hospital for further treatment. One of her parents always stays at the Ronald McDonald House, her father said.

She suffered traumatic brain damage in the accident and recovery is expected to take about a year, her father said. "She's doing well. She should be home in a couple of weeks," he said.

Meanwhile, Xanthe's fellow students at Greencastle-Antrim Elementary and Primary schools learned that Ronald McDonald houses sell aluminum pull tabs for cash to offset operating costs. The tabs bring about 35 cents a pound, Donald Hilton said.

The students started to collect them and dump them into special collection bins in their school lobbies.

So far, said Greg Hoover, director of elementary education for the district, between Gomer's collection and what the students have brought in, more than 100 pounds of tabs already have been have been delivered to the Ronald McDonald House. "We'll let them go on collecting them," Hoover said. "It's no problem for the schools."

Gomer said he may never stop collecting pull tabs.

"People still give them to me. I have some in my pockets now," he said.

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