JetBlue is once again Flying it Forward, by flying it backward, back to Long Beach, that is. For those Long Beach residents who missed the opportunity to win a ticket during JetBlue’s Flying it Forward campaign, now you have a second chance during the second time the ticket will be in town.

Last time the ticket landed in Long Beach was thanks to Jill Pall, who traveled from New York to our sunnier city to spread awareness about ovarian cancer and early detection. Hailing from an NYPD family, she chose James D., a Southern California police officer and Long Beach local, who took the ticket to Boston to pay his respects to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing events.

caps1The 12th Flying it Forward flier is Valerie Mathieu, who will be traveling from West Palm Beach, FL to Long Beach this week to expand Caps of Love, a nonprofit that collects and recycles plastic bottle camps to fund and donate wheelchairs to disabled children in need. Her time in the City will be spent visiting Los Cerritos Elementary School in Long Beach, where she will speak to three different age groups about the importance of giving back, not just through charities, but directly to communities, as well.

Mathieu hopes to send students home with an understanding of how to get involved with giving back, using one of her favorite mottos, “You cannot help everyone, but everyone can help someone.” She will talk about her work on Caps of Love, how the charity fulfills a need for wheelchairs and also protects the environment.

Having worked with the international charity “Bouchons d’Amour” for about four years from the states, Mathieu wanted to start her own nonprofit organization that supported children in the U.S. Enter Caps of Love, which was officially incorporated a year ago and is now its own 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, which still follows the Bouchons d’Amour model, yet is now a stand-alone operation that supports those in need of wheelchairs nationwide.

“There’s no reason to wait,” Mathieu said emphatically. “Children need the wheelchairs. I’m learning as I go here the great need there is. You don’t just get a wheelchair when you need one. Insurance doesn’t just provide one. There is a great need and there are a lot of people that don’t have insurance that would never get wheelchairs.”

“I just got a call from one of my collectors who has a nephew[…] who needs a wheelchair,” she continued. “He has severe cerebral palsy, he’s six years old and MedicAID does not pay for his next wheelchair until he’s 16. I told her, I’ve got several wheelchairs in my home right now, we’ll get this boy hooked up right away.”

Caps of Love uses the money earned from recycling two different grades of plastic caps, whether it’s the screw-on cap to your tube of toothpaste, the cap to your laundry detergent or the lid to a five-gallon paint bucket, to refurbish old wheelchairs or purchase new wheelchairs for disabled children.

The organization started out typically collecting 14 tons of caps every six months, while nowadays the nonprofit is currently holding on to five tons of plastic, and it’s only been five weeks since they sent the last shipment to recycling. Mathieu said that she used to get a ton a month, that number has quickly increased to a ton per week. So far, Caps of Love has recycled 55 tons of plastic.

With this exponential growth, Mathieu is also hoping to learn a little business savvy from her sister-in-law, Cheryl Mathieu, who is local to Long Beach and the founder and CEO of Aging Pro, an elder advocacy organization.

“I thought that she could really help me with my business acumen,” she explained, “which is an area where I’m lacking. I have all the desire and the energy and the strength for the charity, but not the business savvy. And I’m really hoping that she can help.”

caps2According to Mathieu, a new, motorized wheelchair can cost up to $20,000, while a manual wheelchair can cost upwards of $6,500. She recommends that those interested refrain from shipping caps to the organization because the cost of shipping far outweighs what the caps will generate when recycled, however, if participants can get the shipping donated it would make more sense. “People do it anyway,” she said with a smile.

Mathieu especially wanted to thank Home Depot, of which she has worked for 17 years, specifically District 154, which has allowed her to grow Caps of Love with unwavering support for the past five years.

“My last shipment cost $1,500 for the truck and was paid for by one of my corporate executives in Atlanta, with a personal check,” she said. “My district manager of 154 has paid for two of the previous shipments. That type of support is really touching to me.”

Now that the ticket is back in Long Beach, potential do gooders have a chance to Tweet, with the hashtag #FlyingItForward, in 123 characters or less what they would do as a good samaritan if they could travel anywhere in the world. Potential fliers have until March 30 to submit said tweet, which is when Mathieu will choose which idea stands out to her the most.

Mathieu will be looking for “someone that would have the most to gain and is maybe not in a position to get whatever it is they’re looking to achieve. For someone that the trip would be most advantageous for.”

For more information about Flying it Forward, click here. For more information about Caps of Love and how to donate, click here.

Photos courtesy of Caps of Love.

Asia Morris is a Long Beach native covering arts and culture for the Long Beach Post. You can reach her @hugelandmass on Twitter and Instagram and at [email protected].