PORTLAND — Usually, the Ronald McDonald House gets donations of aluminum pull tabs by the coffee can-full.

On Friday morning, 75 seventh-grade students from Gorham Middle School snaked through the building back to the garage, each carrying a box of them – in total, 1 million tabs from the tops of cans.

Maine Metal Recycling of Auburn will pick them up early next week and pay the going rate for the aluminum to the Ronald McDonald House, which provides a free place to stay for families of children who are hospitalized because of serious illness or injury.

Myra Warner, who runs the tab top program for the charity in Portland, said the donation will total about $430, the biggest the house on Brackett Street has ever gotten in the form of tabs.

The money will be used to cover the cost of housing the families and of supplies, such as paper towels and cereal.

Warner said the donation has significance beyond the dollar figure.

“Every time someone pulls that tab, they’re thinking of the Ronald McDonald House and the families they’re supporting,” she said.

When Sheila McAtee’s math students started collecting the tabs seven years ago, they didn’t know they could benefit the families of sick children.

“The kids wanted to see what a million was,” McAtee said, explaining why they started the collection.

Little did they know, it would take a lot longer than a school year to reach their goal.

The students, now seniors at Gorham High School, made it only to 90,000 that year, but each of McAtee’s classes since then has carried on the tradition – and will continue to, though they’ll stop keeping track of how many they have.

The students kept count of the tabs by making bracelets with 100 each and then stringing every 100 bracelets into a necklace. One hundred of those necklaces makes a million tabs.

Katie Baker, 12, said her family puts its tabs in a plastic baggie for her to bring into school. The math lesson aside, she said there is one primary reason she’s kept it going.

“It’s because the kids that are here — we want to help them as much as we can,” she said.

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at: 791-6364 or at

[email protected]