ST. CLOUD, Minn. - We have rulers and scales for measuring our height and our weight. Pam Court has a measure of her happiness: 70 ice cream buckets filled with pop tops.
"Makes me think wow, I did all that," smiles Pam.
Each of Pam's pails contains roughly 5600 tabs. Combined that's nearly 400,000 pop tops collected by Pam over the course of one year.
Pam's first year of collecting can taps netted just five pails she donated to the tab collection program at the Twin Cities Ronald McDonald house. From that humble beginning, her reputation grew.
Pam's pop tops now come from friends and family across the country, and even from strangers who have heard about her collecting through articles in the St. Cloud Times.
"We go somewhere and she sees somebody drinking a can and she'll say, 'Can I have the pop top," say Pam's mother Lorraine.
"It just makes me happy," smiles Pam. Happy, for Pam and her family, was once a faraway place.
52 years ago, Pam suffered a life changing brain injury when she was hit by a drunk driver while walking to a neighbor's house with her sisters. She was three years old.
Pam spent three-and-a-half months in the hospital, blind, unable to talk, feed herself or sit up.
Lorraine still remembers what she was told when she left the hospital with her daughter. "'Take her home and love her, she's going to go to sleep one day and not wake up.'' The doctors said there was nothing more they could do.
Pam proved the doctors wrong. Today she still lives with her mom, but gets around on crutches and loves to visit. Lorraine Court is proud of all her children, but none has come so far as Pam.
"I am a keeper," smiles Pam. She is a keeper, but her collection is not.
With help from her niece, Kelly Reha, Pam and Lorraine transferred all the pop tops to cardboard boxes for transport to their neighborhood McDonalds.
"She makes our whole family proud," said Kelly.
When sold for scrap, Pam's tabs will net the Ronald McDonald House a couple hundred dollars. That may not seem like a lot, but the Ronald McDonald Houses in Rochester and Minneapolis together raised nearly $60,000 from pop tops last year to aid the families who stay there while their kids are in the hospital.
"I think this is just fun, collecting, saving, helping other people," says Pam.
Pam arrived with her pop tops at the McDonalds restaurant, already a bit of a legend. Tipped that she was coming, the restaurant manager and higher-ups from both McDonalds and Coca-Cola welcomed her with gift certificates and a purse made of pop tabs.
"We gonna do this again next year?" she is asked. "Yep!" she beams. 80 buckets doesn't seem out of reach.
Note: Corborn's grocery store at 2118 Veterans Drive in St. Cloud has made itself available as a drop site for Pam's pop tabs, for people who wish to leave them for her.
(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)