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Former nurse helps pick up tab for kids' wheelchairs

After spending much of her career as a nurse, Julia Wallin has found another way of providing help to people with medical needs -- and she's doing it one pop or beer can tab at a time.

For more than a decade, Wallin has collected the tabs during events at the Grand Forks Curling Club, as well as additional donations from friends and former co-workers.

She has given her collections to the St. Boniface General Hospital in Winnipeg for the past couple of years, which uses donations from 151 schools and 184 organizations to purchase one wheelchair a year for a child.

Wallin said that even though Canadian health care pays for wheelchairs, the coverage doesn't provide for anything "this specialized or fantastic."

Kristen Claydon, a seventh-grader with cerebral palsy, was the most recent recipient in May.

Her gift was an enhanced hot-pink wheelchair that can tilt back, alleviating her leg pain.

The wheelchair cost about $6,000 and was paid for with the 14 million tabs collected during the previous year.

Eighth-grader Ian Dmytriw, a paraplegic as a result of cardiac surgery complications as a baby, was chosen for the next gift.

He will receive a smaller and lighter sports chair, making it easier for him to play football outside with his friends.

Wallin said everyone at the curling club has been supportive of her efforts during the years.

She saves the collected tabs at home and brings them to the hospital whenever she visits her daughter in Winnipeg.

"This curling club contributes a lot," she said.

Most of the tabs come from curlers, but she said she still gets quite a few donations from workers at Northeast Human Service Center in Grand Forks. Wallin was a nurse at the center for about 25 years and said the 150 employees really help her collection efforts.

She recently was given two barrels of tabs that had been collected by Whalen's Moving and Storage of Grand Forks. She also gets regular donations from people at UND and Hugo's.

It's an effort that she doesn't have to make, but she said it's second nature to her because she's been doing it for so long.

"Once a caregiver, you're always a caregiver," she said. "It's just one small way of helping our children that have a special need."

Wallin said she used to collect the tabs for a local charity but it stopped taking them a few years ago. She switched to St. Boniface General Hospital after hearing about its wheelchair program from her cousin, a nurse at the