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Student spearheads pop top campaign

With a little help from her grandparents, teacher and community, sixth grader Anya Butzer is making a difference.

When Anya's mom, Jane, noticed Anya's teacher, Linda Mickelson, was also collecting pop can tops, she mentioned it to Anya, and the Detroit Lakes girl took it from there.

Anya looked up information on the Internet -- how the Ronald McDonald House program worked and what she could do. She also called the charity directly and was mailed 20 houses to set out around Detroit Lakes for pop-top collections.

Mickelson said she had been collecting pop-tops for some time, but was "just waiting for somebody to do this."

Anya was that somebody. She also enlisted her grandfather, Ralph Welken, and his pop tops as well.

"My grandpa has been collecting for about 20 years," she said.

Welken said he had coffee cans filled with pop-tops stacked in his garage before turning them over to his granddaughter.

"I don't even know why we got started," his wife Barb Welken said of their collecting habit.

To get the word out, Anya appeared on Laker News -- a morning news show students put on -- and set out Ronald McDonald houses at Lakes Brewed Awakening, the Lincoln Education Center, Wal-Mart, the Minnesota Department of Transportation and Trinity Lutheran Church, asking the community to participate as well.

Last week the Butzers collected the pop-top holders they had set out around the community and tabulated the tops at 47,000. They are taking them to the recycling center in town, getting them weighed and then having a check made out to the Ronald McDonald House to donate.

Although the weight of the pop-tops likely doesn't add up to lots of cash, "every little bit helps," Jane Butzer said. And it's more about getting the awareness out there.

Mickelson and Butzer have both known people who have utilized Ronald McDonald Houses, which provides very discounted housing -- about $20 a night -- for families of patients in the hospital.

"Once you actually know someone (using a Ronald McDonald House), it becomes more real," Butzer said.

And although Anya's pop tops maybe didn't raise thousands of dollars, it did provide a couple nights stays for some family. A generous, nice gift from a sixth grader.