MEDFORD – 3.5 million pop tabs.
For nearly half his life, Jim Spinler has been collecting the little metal tabs that pop open soda cans. He has always been a local celebrity in his hometown of Medford, and within the last handful of years Spinler’s face has been shared around the nation as his massive collection became an instant Internet sensation.
But on Friday, as the 77-year-old prepares for what might very well be his last appearance in the Straight River Days Parade, Spinler’s eyes well with tears — not because he is sad it’s over, but because he is so proud of what he will be able to do next.
Come Monday, Spinler will make his pilgrimage to a recycling center in Rochester to donate what has taken more than 35 years to collect to the Ronald McDonald House, a day that many have been anxiously anticipating.
“I am just so happy that I have been able to do this,” an emotional Spinler said as he gazed upon his final parade float. “This really has turned into a nationwide project.”
Spinler’s collection began during his 50-year career as owner of Jim’s Garbage Service, which he sold in 2006, as a way to support the Ronald McDonald House, which in turn supports families of children with serious illnesses who are being treated at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. A close friend of Spinler had been staying at the facility while his son was being treated for a kidney infection, leading Spinler to begin collecting pop tabs in a five-gallon bucket.
Fast-forward to today, and Spinler now has six-feet wide, four-deep and four high box filled to the brim with 2,000 pounds worth of pop tabs. In addition, 18 five-gallon pails accompany the box, weighing in at 10 pounds apiece.
Over the years, donations of pop tabs have poured in not only from those in his local community, but from people he’s never met all over the country. Spinler admits that he wishes he would have had the sense to start a list of all those who contributed to his cause, but laughed that he would have been left with dozens of notebooks filled with names of generous people.
“Every single one counts,” Spinler said with a grin, sharing story after story about people who would come to donate who would have anywhere from bags full of pop tabs to only three in their hand. Since the beginning of his collection, Spinler goes through each and every pop tab he acquires to make sure they are high quality and donation worthy.
Last year, Spinler had reached his goal of 3 million pop tabs, but he wasn’t quite ready to cash in the donation. His son Curtis, who had originally started the collection with him, wouldn’t be able to make it up to Idaho for another year, so Spinler remained patient so that they could make the donation together.
“It’s time,” Spinler said as he beamed with pride. “The people down at the Ronald McDonald House sure are excited. They told me that they’ve heard about me for a long time, and that now is a great time because they really need the money right now.”
While Spinler isn’t completely sure how much his collection will be worth — largely due on the always fluctuating price for aluminum — the Ronald McDonald House Charities website states that they receive about 50 cents per pound of pop tabs. Spinler said that the recycling center in Rochester informed in that they may price the pop tabs slightly higher because of where exactly the donation will be going.
“Ever since the box got completely full, people have been asking me why I don’t just sell them,” Spinler said. “But I just tell them, that’s not the point. I’ve always thought that everyone should do some kind of volunteer work, and this is what I’m doing. It makes me happy. We are all happy that this is finally going to happen.”
Despite the decades it took for Spinler to make the donation a reality, his plan upon returning from Rochester is to start at the very beginning once again. Unsure of how many he’ll be able to collect the second time around, he’s excited to give it a good Medford-try.
“I think I could fill up that box again if every person in Steele County would save their pop tabs for me,” Spinler said with a bright twinkle in his eye.