Putting a smile on faces

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 September, 2009, 12:00am

An 84-year-old retired salesman collects discarded cans and bottles in the United States to raise surgery fees for children with cleft palates (congenital deformity caused by abnormal facial development).

George Ouellette has retired, but he still works up to seven hours a day walking through parks, hillsides, along busy roads and even rummaging through rubbish bins in search of cans and bottles, according to Operation Smile, the charity he works with.

Each can or bottle sells for five US cents, and Ouellete donates all the money to Operation Smile, an international medical charity for children and young adults.

Since 2005, Ouellette has collected more than 100,000 cans, raising a total of US$4,440 and providing 19 surgeries for children suffering from clefts.

Ouellette, who lives in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, first started volunteering with Operation Smile when he saw a television show on the group in 2005. He decided to give a hand when finding that it cost only US$240 to repair a child's cleft lip or cleft palate.

'The work ... struck a chord in my dad and he decided that this would be his job - his purpose,' said Sue Ouellette, his eldest daughter.

Collecting cans made him uncomfortable at first, Ouellette said. But he knew he was doing a good thing. He has developed a circuit of supporters who save cans for him.