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Cans for Wishes: Four years of helping children


COVID-19 and collecting aluminum cans and other metals indirectly saved the lives of a mother and her daughter.

It all started four years ago when the pandemic hit and people were not permitted to gather in large groups.

That stipulation meant a major loss in funds for the Northwest Pennsylvania-West Virginia Chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

The foundation grants special wishes for critically ill children and youth ages 2 through 18. The purpose is to give the kids a special time to enjoy and remember despite undergoing medical treatments.

Diane Blood, who has been a volunteer with Make-A-Wish for many years, thought something should be done to help Make-A-Wish continue granting wishes, each of which costs several thousand dollars.

She knew people were recycling, so she decided to form a group that would receive funds from the efforts. Thus, Cans for Wishes was born — and it celebrated its fourth anniversary June 1.

To date, the nonprofit has raised $156,000, enough to pay for 34 wishes.

One of the recipients was a teenage boy, Jesse, who wanted to go to Hawaii. Make-A-Wish sends the immediate family along with the Wish recipient.

Jesse and his brother were swimming off the shores of Hawaii on that trip when they noticed a woman and her daughter struggling as they were being pulled farther out in the ocean.

The two young men were able to save the females from drowning — thanks to being at the right spot at the right time.

“There’s a reason Jesse and his family took that trip,” Blood said.

She doesn’t know how the story of the mother and daughter would have ended had Jesse and his brother had not been where they were at that time. She sees God working in lives “every day,” adding, “Somebody somewhere knew Jesse and his brother had to be in Hawaii that day.”

Although that is just one success, Blood said there are other stories of kids meeting their favorite princesses at Walt Disney World, which is a popular wish. Others wishes range from shopping trips to playhouses.

While Make-A-Wish cannot cure an illness, it gives the children a great experience and memories. Blood said while some people think the Make-A-Wish recipients die, about 85 percent live normal lives. In fact, of the 34 wishes Cans for Wishes has been able to fund, only two recipients have passed away.

Blood said she doesn’t do the Cans for Wishes by herself.

John Newhard II of Saegertown heard about the project and got involved.

Each month, Cans for Wishes has what is known as “drop-off day” where people can take cans and other things to Newhard’s home in Saegertown. They are frequently asked if they take treadmills, lawn mowers and appliances, for example. The answer is: If it is metal, Cans for Wishes accepts it.

Blood is the director of the organization. Other board members include Newhard, Gerri Powell, Blood’s husband, Doug, Ryan Hartle, Kristine Haemer and Jackie Roberson.

Many volunteers work with the board in coordinating collection projects and other fundraising events.

In addition, the organization has royalty representing it at various functions, spreading the word that Cans for Wishes makes a difference in people’s lives.

Erica Fish is Miss Cans for Wishes; Kennedy Williams, Junior Miss; and Laiklyn Massey, Little Miss.

Volunteers also help in the community. Recently, they adopted two flower boxes outside the Memory Support Unit at the Crawford County Care Center.

Blood said the care center paid for everything except some mulch and the volunteers did the work.

The Make-A-Wish families are very appreciative and supportive of Cans for Wishes.

Blood said the family of Levi Wade of Conneaut Lake still helps with the drop-off, even though he has passed away.

She said Wade’s death “absolutely broke my heart,” but she continues her work so others can get a wish like he did.

The families of the Wish recipients keep in touch and give Blood regular updates. She said the families have told her how important the wishes are and how they have changed their child’s lives.

Blood said Jesse’s family has “paid it forward,” when one family member showed up on drop-off day with a big truckload of metal in appreciation for sending Jesse to Hawaii.

The next drop-off date is June 23 from 1 to 5 pm. at Newhard’s home, 753 Euclid Ave., Saegertown.

If people can’t make it to Saegertown that day but still want to help, they can take their recyclables to Lincoln Recycling on Mead Avenue, Meadville, during their operating hours. Instead of Lincoln give the donor the money due, the donor can request the money be credited to Cans for Wishes via a special account set up by Lincoln for the organization.

Monetary donations also can be sent to Cans for Wishes, 13253 State Highway 198, Conneautville, PA 16406, or online at

Blood praises God for the community, family and friends involved with the program.

“It’s what makes us tick,” she said.

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Two years ago, Diana Blood started collecting aluminum cans in hopes to raise $500 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

At that time the country was dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and in-person fundraising events for the foundation were on hold.

The organization grants wishes for children with life-threatening illnesses, and friends are to make the wishes become a reality.

On Friday afternoon, Blood and others involved with Cans for Wishes celebrated the huge success of the program, which started out collecting cans and expanded to collect all things metal — including large appliances such as refrigerators, stoves and hot water tanks.

In two years, Blood far surpassed the original goal of $500.

The celebration on Friday marked the most recent total of $100,011.93.

That means Cans for Wishes has raised enough money to fund wishes for 22 children and now is working on raising funds for the 23rd wish.

Most of the wishes are for trips to places such as Disney World, which includes everyone in the child’s immediate family. Estimates cost of each wish is more than $4,400. Other wishes are for special items such as adaptive playground equipment, remodeled bedrooms and some tangible things.

While the idea for recycling cans to raise funds started with Blood, she is quick to point out she did not do it alone.

She came up with the idea of recycling the cans because her grandfather, Ken Powell, had recycled cans for years.

Blood, who has been a Make-A-Wish volunteer for 15 years, met with the area director for the organization and discussed the idea. Then, on June 1, 2020, Cans for Wishes became a reality.

The community support has been tremendous, Blood said, with donations of cans and monetary gifts.

Blood had high praise for radio station Cool 101.7, social media and other media that have promoted the charity and helped in its success.

John Newhard II, who works with Blood’s father, heard about the program and decided to get involved.

He said he has “loved every second of it.”

Newhard said Diana has “big dreams” which requiring a lot of planning and he’s really glad to be part of the program.

Newhard is responsible for picking up the large metal objects, and his home is a collection site for people to drop off donations which are then taken to recycling.

Blood said she was inspired to volunteer for Make-A-Wish by Kris Haemer, who has been a volunteer for 25 years; and by Blood’s mother, Gerri Powell, whom she described as an “unofficial volunteer.”

Blood said she wants to help children and Make-A-Wish was the logical choice.

Haemer smiled as she told of rummaging through garbage receptacles at Venango Valley Golf Course to retrieve the discarded cans. She said she is known as the “garbage lady” as she collects the cans with the owner’s approval.

Other businesses through the county, including Conneaut Lake Park, have special containers for discarded cans to be given to Cans for Wishes.

Blood said in the spring of 2021, Kanect Recycling contacted Cans for Wishes to help with the project and from there “we flew,” she said, regarding the growth of Cans for Wishes.

While collecting the metal remains the biggest fundraiser, Cans for Wishes has received monetary donations through individuals and is the beneficiary of proceeds of a dice run in memory of Mia Thomas, a “Wish” child who died in March after battling a kidney tumor for two years.

Cans for Wishes also initiated a “Miss Cans for Wishes” program to get the youngsters involved in volunteering and promoting the program while learning the benefit of giving back to the community.

The current queens were crowned earlier this month. They are: Kylie Boring, Miss Cans for Wishes; Olivia Carpin, Junior Miss; and Brooklyn Thomas, Little Miss.

Thomas knows first-hand how important the wishes are to the families. She is the younger sister of Mia Thomas.

Brooklyn remembers the trip to Disney the family took as Mia’s wish.

Brooklyn’s favorite part, though, was not meeting all the Disney characters — it was “seeing Uncle Judd,” who lives in that area and got to meet up with them.

Blood praised the work done by the foundation in arranging to have wishes fulfilled.

While some in the community call volunteers in the project heroes, Newhard says the “real heroes are the kids” battling life-threatening conditions.

Courtney Nientimp, regional director of Make-A-Wish of West Virginia, praised the volunteers of Cans for Wishes at Friday’s celebration. She praised them for their work and the community for the support for the program.

While celebrating having raised more than $100,000 and funding 22 wishes, Cans for Wishes will hold one more big drop-off day before winter where people can take cans and other metals to Newhard’s home at 753 Euclid Ave., Saegertown.

Although pickups are suspended for the winter, exceptions will be made for lawn and garden tractors, large amounts of aluminum cans and junk cars.

Regular pickup will resume in the spring.

Cans for Wishes has an account set up at Lincoln Recycling where recycling participants can indicate their funds should be credited to the Cans for Wishes program.

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