JOLIET – Fun fact: 800 pounds of pop tabs is approximately 1 million, 30 thousand tabs.
So said James R. Sossong, a deacon at St. Mary Immaculate Parish in Plainfield, retired firefighter and chaplain for the Plainfield Fire Protection District.
He’s collected nearly 7 million of the tabs – so far – for Ronald McDonald House Charities, which provides free to low-cost lodging for families of sick children receiving treatment at nearby hospitals.
Sossong’s goal is to reach 10 million and then – maybe – retire from active collecting.
“I just believe God put me on this earth to help others,” Sossong said, “and most of the time, when I do things like that, I get more out of it than what I give. So I’ll probably just continue doing it.”
But Sossong doesn’t want readers to be too impressed. He’s had plenty of help and is seeking even more help. If people can’t get to one of his drop-off stations, Sossong will pick up the tabs himself.
Sossong has collection bins at St. Mary’s and at each of Plainfield’s four fire stations, as well its main building.
Mick Herbst, past grand knight for Knights of Columbus Good Shepherd Council 5573 in Plainfield, said Sossong had just started collecting tabs when he approached the council and asked it to help.
That was in 2008. Since then, the council has donated 2.5 million tabs to Sossong. Collecting is easier than one might think. Herbst said members bring tabs to meeting in boxes, bags and cans, and Herbst spreads the word to everyone he meets.
“My wife works at the high school [Plainfield Township High School – Central Campus] and I had a caterer collecting them for a while,” Herbst said. “I have containers for tabs at all the fish fries and the kids cleaning the tables will pull the tabs.”
Sossong stores tabs in four receptacles at his house – which currently have about 500,000 tabs among the four, he said. When they’re full, a friend loads them up in his truck and takes them to United Scrap Metal Buyers and Recyclers in Cicero because Sossong said the company matches the donated amount.
“Say I turn in a million tabs and that winds up being $200,” Sossong said, “they match those funds and Ronald McDonald gets $400.”
A 2015 news release from United Scrap Metal Buyers and Recyclers said the company’s annual “Recycle with Ronald” program, which recycles aluminum poptops, has generated nearly $500,000 for the charity in the past 10 years.
Why this interest in pop tabs?
Sossong said his daughter, Christe, benefited from Ronald McDonald House Charities when her newborn son Logan was very ill.
“Unfortunately, the baby lived for six months and passed away,” Sossong said, “and when she got home and started talking, she said. ‘Thank God for Ronald McDonald houses.’ I knew about them and what they did, and she said, ‘People collect tabs and that money is used to support families that stay at the Ronald McDonald houses.’ I said, ‘Well, in honor, of Logan, I’ll start collecting pop tabs, too, and donate them to Ronald McDonald Houses so other families can also take advantage of the services.”
But Sossong is not the only area person dedicated to collecting pop tabs, nor must the tabs come from pop cans. Any aluminum tabs will do, even from beer cans and some dog and cat food cans.
The students at St. Mary Nativity School in Joliet also collect them. Their goal is 1 million. As of late 2016, they had collected 924,719 tabs, according to information supplied by the school.
Proceeds will be donated to the Ronald McDonald House in Winfield to help those ill children at Central DuPage Hospital. Members from the Knight of Columbus, Rev. Gordon Michels Council 12014, have also helped the students collect tabs.
Sossong said the students at St. Mary Immaculate Parish School also get involved by hosting friendly pop-tab collecting competitions and pizza parties for the winners. Hardly a Sunday passes when Sossong doesn’t come home with pop tabs.
“People look me up to give me baggies with 20, 30 tabs in them,” Sossong said.
For more information about Sossong’s tab-collecting program, call him at 815-436-8715.
For more information about St. Mary Nativity’s tab-collecting program, call 815-722-8518.