By Mark Brewster
Carmen Garibay is a Mom on a mission. Her mission and passion is collecting tabs from soft drink cans not by the gallon, but by the 5-gallon bucketful.
To understand her mission and passion, we must take a walk back in time…
Eleven years ago, in the year 2005, Carmen and Cornelio Garibay had to face something every parent fears…the news that one of their children is deathly ill. That year, their son Marcus was diagnosed with leukemia. For the next three months, Carmen was by Marcus’ bedside at Providence Hospital in El Paso while Cornelio traveled back and forth between Van Horn and El Paso so he could work part of the week and be with his son the rest of the time. While at Providence, they were close enough for family and friends to give them the support they needed to make it through their ordeal. One of Marcus’ friends, Amanda French, visited Marcus every weekend while he was in El Paso.
After three months, the Doctors at Providence recommended that Marcus be transferred to Ft. Worth where he could get the advanced care he then required. When they got to Ft. Worth and Marcus was checked in to his room, Carmen mentioned to the hospital staff that she needed to see about getting a hotel room. “No, Mrs. Garibay,” she was told, “we have a place for parents of pediatric patients to stay across the way. It is the Ronald McDonald House. Just go over and let them know your baby is in the hospital here and they will take care of everything you need.?
Carmen and Cornelio were welcomed at the Ronald McDonald House with open arms and compassion. They were set up in a room and shown all the amenities that were offered. Not only a room, but a washer and dryer, a large pantry that was fully stocked, and a large stocked refrigerator. All at their disposal. If this was not enough, there was also an army of volunteers from the YMCAs and local businesses that prepared meals and offered to stay with the kids so exhausted parents could rest.
When the Garibays asked what it would cost for them to stay there, they were amazed when they were told “not a thing…you have enough to worry about right now.” This amazing, awesome, place they called the Ronald McDonald House would be their home for the next three months. Cornelio would stay at the hospital with Marcus by day and Carmen would stay with him at night…and they were taken care of by the volunteers of Ronald McDonald House 24-hours a day.
It was during their stay at Ronald McDonald House that Carmen noticed that people would come in with what looked like tabs from soda cans. When she asked about it, she was told that Coca-Cola Company would donate money to the Ronald McDonald House when the tabs were turned in; this was how they were able to fund their charity and provide the services to the families staying there. The Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) is a 501(c)(3) corporation.
According to Carmen, Marcus never stopped asking when he could go home to Van Horn to be with his friends and family and to “just be home.” Marcus never gave up and fought valiantly, but could not win the battle. He was only 14 years old when he succumbed to leukemia in 2005…a mere six months after his diagnosis.
Carmen remembers that she and Cornelio were on their way back to Van Horn when she decided what she would do. She looked over at Cornelio and said, “I’m going to collect soda can tabs to give to the Ronald McDonald House. This is how we can honor our son’s memory and help other families the way we were helped.”
So, Carmen collects soda can tabs and has been for the last eleven years. She encourages others to aid her in this endeavor. She has a collection container in her room at the school. Recently, she delivered six 5-GALLON buckets of tabs to the Ronald McDonald house in El Paso. All of this Carmen does because their lives were touched by a place called the Ronald McDonald House in their time of need and also to honor the life of her son, Marcus.
Speaking of touching lives, Marcus also touched lives around him. Not only the lives of his Mom, Dad, brothers and the rest of his family and friends. Remember Amanda French who went to visit him in El Paso? Well, Carmen shared that during one visit Amanda looked at her and said, “I’m going to be a pediatric oncology nurse one day…because of Marcus!” And she is. Amanda now works in El Paso with Dr. Benjamin Carcamo, who just happened to be Marcus’ doctor.
So Marcus, you weren’t with us but for 14 short years, but you touched more lives than you know. And that is a life well lived!