"They're pure aluminum," said George Mattegat, a longtime member of Newtown's Hiram Lodge No. 8.

"Eighteen hundred equal one pound. We collect them and turn them over to the Shriner hospital in Springfield, Mass., or the lodge in Milford to be redeemed and recycled. We don't take cans because school kids do that. What they collect can be redeemed with or without the tabs."

The money the tabs, other Shriner fund-raisers and corporate and individual donations brings underwrites the organization's major philanthropy, its children's hospitals.

"Each day, throughout the U.S., all the Shriner-supported hospitals spend $1.7 million," said Mattegat's wife, Carol.

There are 20 Shriner hospitals in the U.S. and one each in Canada and Mexico. Each hospital has at least one specialty, be it burns, spinal cord injury or orthopedic care. Hospitals also offer counseling for re-entry to the home and community.

Along with medical care, there is Shriner-supported research in such fields as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and vitamin D-resistant rickets. Shriner researchers were the people who developed the technique of growing a patient's own skin to be used for grafts.

Donations to the Shriners do more than benefit the hospitals.

The largesse is extended to patients, for whom there are two admission stipulations: that a child is under 18 and that, in the opinion of surgeons, the child can be helped.

According to Shriners' literature, there is "never a charge to patient, parent or third party for any service or medical treatment at the hospitals; no federal fund of any kind is sought or accepted for any medical care or service."

In addition to all that, the Shriners support Ronald McDonald House where, Mattegat said, "families can stay to be with their children while they're in the hospital."

The cost for that, including kitchen facilities, is $10 per night per family.

Shriners are always seeking out imaginative ways to fund their projects.

Their tab collection program, for example, began at Helma Court No. 64, Ladies Oriental Shrine of North America, in Springfield, Mass., in 1989, when the women were looking for a project that enabled them to extend their support to Shriner children's hospitals."

Once the word went out, tabs began coming in. They were collected and brought for redemption to a recycling center.

The project was a hit and was quickly adopted by Shriner lodges throughout the country, Newtown included.

It hasn't been hard for Mattegat, a former town animal control officer and school bus contractor, and the other members of Hiram Lodge to ask for tabs.

"We do it because it helps children," Mattegat said in a matter-of-fact way. "That's all."

Soda can tabs are accepted by any Shriner or at Hiram Lodge, 3 Washington Ave., Sandy Hook Center and the town's social services office, Town Hall South.

Call George Mattegat at (203) 426-3228, to learn how to start a collection program.

For more information about the Shriners, visit www.shriners.com.

The Shriners' toll-free patient referral line in the U.S. is (800) 237-5055; in Canada, (800) 361-7256.