Pop can tabs. Most people use them to open their drink and never give them a second thought. What difference can a pop tab make? To families staying at a Ronald McDonald house, it can mean a world of difference.

Grace Longlett of Wilton is a 15-year-old high school freshman with a big heart. She recently collected her two millionth pop can tab in an effort to raise money for the Ronald McDonald houses in Iowa City and Chicago. Grace’s family has stayed at both of these houses in the past while Grace underwent surgery on her hips. Grace was born with hip dysplasia, a condition that causes the hip socket to form abnormally. Complications from this can include unequal leg lengths and a twisted femur, and some people have issues in both hips. Grace had all of these. “She’s our little overachiever,” Grace’s mother, Katie, said with a laugh.

Grace had her first surgery when she was ten years old and has had five surgeries in total. During the process of correcting her hip dysplasia, Grace’s family has had to stay in Chicago and Iowa City while Grace was in the hospital. They have stayed at the Ronald McDonald houses in both cities.

The Ronald McDonald house is a place for families to stay while their children are in the hospital. They provide everything a person could need, including meals, laundry, games, toys, and a room for each family. The houses are run entirely on donations and volunteers. It costs about $50 a night for one family to stay there, but no family is ever given a bill. “The only thing you should have to worry about is your person in the hospital,” said Brad, Grace’s father.

Families are welcome to stay as long as their child is in the hospital. “We met people who had been there for months,” said Brad. “Hospitals usually have a place for parents to stay, but they don’t have accommodations for siblings, and the Ronald McDonald house does,” said Katie. Grace has two younger brothers: Dylan, who is 12, and Nick, who is 11. Katie said, “Sometimes Brad, Grace, and I will go up first and then my parents will bring the boys later, and as long as the house has room, they let all of us stay there.”

The houses aim for a communal feel. There are shared living areas and kitchens, and families are encouraged to socialize. Brad and Katie said meeting other families at the houses has helped when they are going through the stress of having a child in the hospital. “You’re out talking to other people, and that makes a difference when you’re sending your child off to surgery. It makes you feel not so overwhelmed and alone,” said Katie.

Grace and her family have met people from all over the world at the houses. “We met a family that lived two miles from the Great Wall of China,” Grace said. Katie said they keep in touch with many of the people they have met throuhg Facebook, and Grace emails regularly with friends that she has made. Katie said when they are on their way to the houses, they ask, “Who are we going to meet this time?” Grace said she enjoys making friends at the houses because “everybody understands what you’re going through.”

After her first stay at the Ronald McDonald house, Grace wanted to give back. She learned about collecting pop can tabs and began to spread the word. Soon, the whole community was helping out. “Sometimes we come home and there’s just a bag of tabs on our doorstep,” said Brad. After Grace collected her first million pop can tabs, the recycling company that partners with the houses awarded Grace the “Metal of Honor” for her donation.

One million pop can tabs equals about $400, which the recycling company then matches, and all the money goes to run the houses. If you would like to help Grace reach her next million, you can drop off your tabs at Wester Drug in Muscatine or Wilton, Wilton City Hall, Durant City Hall, or any of the Wilton schools. You can also check out Grace’s Facebook page, “Pop Tabs for Grace”.

Pop can tabs aren’t the only way to help. “We encourage people, if they have the means, to donate or volunteer. Even dollar store items can make a big difference,” said Katie. “It’s a way to help that doesn’t require a lot of time or money.”

Grace is appreciative of the community’s involvement. “I want to say thank you to communities for helping, because two million pop tabs is a lot and we couldn’t have done it without you.”