Donna Leonetti is “Tab-you-lus!” yet again.
Leonetti has invented a new word for the English dictionary. Her eighth year of collecting can tabs in a charity drive for the Ronald McDonald House—located in Colorado Springs—shattered every McDonald record in the books. Her enthusiasm has become contiguous. Many others caught what she calls the “tab-you-lus” bug. She inspired a school, a prison, friends, family and even strangers to save tabs in her yearly endeavor to help the families of sick children.
Recently, Leonetti, the Las Animas County Treasurer, she just received a bag of tabs from a man in Texas to launch the beginning of her ninth year.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “The community has really pulled together for my cause, especially Fisher’s Peak Elementary School and the local prison. Everyone has been wonderful. I’ve received tabs in the mail from other towns and cities.”
The Development Director at the Ronald McDonald House for Charities of Southern Colorado was so impressed she made the effort to meet Leonetti at the Ronald McDonald House and see for herself the record 400-pound haul.
“I wanted to meet this woman,” said Sam Rush-Walton, who learned of the record haul from volunteer Cori Cushman. “It was the largest donation by one person in our history. I love that Donna has taken this as a personal cause. And where she goes she has encouraged her friends to commit to her drive. It really means a lot to us and the families we serve. So many people feel that there is not much they can do,” she said, “but something as small as collecting tabs can make a difference.”
The Ronald McDonald legacy started when Philadelphia Eagle tight end Fred Hill’s daughter was suffering from leukemia, which prompted the Eagles to raise over $100,000 to support her treatment at the hospital. Hill and his wife, Fran, camped out on hospital chairs and benches, ate food from vending machines and they weren’t alone. The Hills saw other parents doing exactly the same thing. Many had traveled from great distances to bring their children to the hospital for care but found the high cost of hotel rooms impossible.
The first Ronald McDonald House that served as a temporary home for families of hospitalized children opened on October 15, 1974. There are now 365 Ronald McDonald Houses throughout the world. The Colorado Springs McDonald House was number 101, and has 11 bedrooms and two rooms at nearby St Francis Medical Center for the ability to place 13 families on a given day.
Rush-Walton is overjoyed because of the construction of a new house at 4223 Royal Pine Drive, next to the UCHealth Memorial North Children’s Hospital in Colorado Springs. The foundation has been poured for the 20-bedroom facility with the capability to add 10 additional bedrooms. The huge facility will be number 366 in the world.
“Everybody has to get on board to have a McDonald house,” Rush-Walton said, “and that includes hospitals and doctors and people like Donna among many others. For the families we serve—none of them asked to be here because something has gone terribly wrong. Sometimes they come with only the clothes on their backs. We can offer nutritious meals and therapeutic interaction with other families in the same situation. Some families stay as long as seven months. We can only be honored to take care of these families and address their hopes and fears.”
Leonetti, despite putting long hours at the courthouse in the treasurer’s office, has remained steadfast in her goal to top last year’s collection of tabs.
“She is very dedicated,” said her best friend Betty Ramirez, “she has inspired many people to collect tabs. Even my grandson, Jaydin, is very focused on collecting tabs for Donna. Despite the demands of her job, she has put a lot of time and effort into this project and inspired a lot of people for this good cause.”
There are already five pounds of tabs in the bucket for next year.
“One of my friends wants me to go for 500 pounds,” Leonetti said. “That sounds impossible but who knows? I’ll have to work twice as hard to reach that amount. But I’m just so grateful to everyone: You are truly a blessing to me and the Ronald McDonald House.”