Five years ago, Emily and Kaitlyn Fabre of Salem, Mass., were touched and gratified by the generous support their grandmother received from the Salem Council on Aging. The council, a department of the city government, sent a van and attendants to take their grandmother, who was receiving chemotherapy treatments for cancer, to and from medical appointments—all free of charge. In 2010, after their grandmother had passed away, Emily and Kaitlyn decided to honor her memory and help needy seniors in the area by collecting returnable cans and bottles and giving the proceeds to the Salem Council on Aging.
“We realized that many seniors could be in the same situation as our grandmother and that some could have even tougher times,” says Kaitlyn, now 17. “Some might not have any family in the area, and the Council on Aging could be their only source of transportation.”
After starting out on their own, picking up cans and bottles from roadsides and parks, the Fabres enlisted the help of friends and neighbors, their 4-H club and local churches and businesses. They also launched a Facebook page. Their project evolved into an annual can and bottle drive that, in less than four years, has raised more than $3,000.
Most of the money has gone for directly to the Council on Aging, which has used it to buy new tires for its vans and pay for van repairs. A small amount has come in the form of donations from businesses, such as gift cards and certificates, which are given out as bingo prizes at the council’s Senior Center.
Dozens of people in the Salem community support the drive by dropping off their cans and bottles in collection boxes at the Fabre’s home, the Essex County 4-H, the Council on Aging, and at the workplace of the Fabre’s mom, Tammy. Each bottle or can is redeemable for five cents.
According to Tammy, the lion’s share of the collecting is still done by Emily and Kaitlyn, who spend more than 10 hours each week volunteering.
“They still pick up cans regularly along the roads,” says Tammy. “They also get permission in advance to collect leftover cans and bottles from public activities such as sporting events and banquets.”
For their public service, Emily and Kaitlyn have been honored by the Salem Council on Aging and by Prudential Financial, Inc. Two years in a row, Kaitlyn received a certificate for community service from Prudential. And in 2013, Emily, now 14, received Prudential’s Spirit of Community Award.
“I’m really proud of them,” says Tammy. “When Emily won Prudential’s top award, it brought tears to my eyes. They’re helping keep the memory of my mom alive and helping the elderly in our community.”
Emily and Kaitlyn also enjoy stopping in every week to socialize with visitors at the Senior Center.
“I’m glad we’re able to give back,” says Kaitlyn. “They’re just awesome people. They’re always very nice to us, and it makes us want to help even more. Life is busy, but there are always people who have it harder. So why not help them?”
“It’s really fun for me seeing the seniors and talking,” says Emily. “They’ve told us we’re making a big difference. They’re always very positive and uplifting every time we come in. It feels good to know we’re helping people the way my grandmother was helped. I think she’d be very proud of what we’re doing.”