Do You Know Tom 'the Can Man'?
The longtime Safety Harbor resident has been roaming the city streets for more than a decade, collecting cans to help charity as well as his own state of mind.
Chances are if you've spent any amount of time in downtown Safety Harbor, you've probably run into a man collecting aluminum cans.
But contrary to what you might think, the man isn't collecting cans because he's poor, or crazy or because he likes to collect junk.
No, the man known simply as Tom the Can Man started collecting cans as a way to free his mind of stress when his mother was ill more than a decade ago. And even though she has since passed away, Tom continues to collect cans as a way to exercise and be part of the community.
"I started doing it for therapy when my mom was sick about 10 years ago, and I've been doing it ever since," the 75-year-old said as he retrieved some cans from the trash barrel outside of Brady's Backyard BBQ.
"I give the tabs to the Shriners, I donate pennies I find to veterans, and I keep the cans for myself and recycle them," he admitted.
Tom says he sees his brother, who has diabetes, sit in front of the TV all day, and kids today spending more time playing video games than being outdoors, and it motivates him to keep collecting.
"I like to get out and get busy. That's the name of the game."
Tom, who has lived in town for more than 40 years, said some people leave cans for him in bags on their fences or throw them in the back of his pickup truck, and that they get worried if they don't see him every day.
One local business owner said Tom has been a staple of the downtown area for as long as he can remember.
"I remember him collecting cans back when I was a kid," Southern Fresh owner Aaron Stewart said. "He used to ride around on a bike, but now I noticed he walks a lot."
Indeed Tom, who also paints and gives away artwork, says he walks roughly 4 to 6 miles per day, and he accumulates about a half-dozen large garbage bags worth of cans every 10 days.
But he doesn't do it for the money; he does it for the exercise and the feeling of freedom it brings him. And despite his 75th birthday approaching in December, he doesn't plan on stopping anytime soon.
"If I stopped doing this, I'd die," he said.