FW: [UL] Urban legend drives charity pop-top push
- Well, it's not historical...but...could be cultural, I guess!!
I have to wonder why people don't check into the legitimacy of these
programs before they start collecting...aj wright // ajwright@...
From: Brian Chapman [mailto:wt046@...]
Sent: Monday, February 11, 2002 5:56 PM
To: urban legends
Subject: [UL] Urban legend drives charity pop-top push
Birmingham News [Alabama] | 9 Feb 2002
Urban legend drives charity pop-top push
News staff writer
Back when 15-year-old Elizabeth Bohli was in the third grade, she had
a friend who had a friend who had leukemia. Word was that the sick
girl's doctor told her about a program in which the Coca-Cola Co.
would pay for one chemotherapy session for every 1,000 aluminum
Elizabeth remembered that program when her 12-year-old sister, Jenny,
was diagnosed with melanoma in September, and a massive collection
drive began at Pelham High School.
For two months, students, teachers and parents brought in thousands of
the tiny aluminum objects.
Soon, other schools were calling, asking how they could donate their
pop-tops. Word spread to churches, which eagerly jumped in to help.
And one friend told another, and another and another.
Since then, the pop-tops campaign has gone, well, a little over the
top. As of this week, more than 276,000 had been collected.
And they're still pouring in.
But none of that metal will translate into free treatments for Jenny.
"It was just an old myth," she said this week.
Jenny's mother, Jo, called Coca-Cola recently, feeling as though she
held a winning lottery ticket in her hands. Then she asked how she
could cash in the pop-tops for money to pay for her daughter's
At first, there was laughter. Then the voice on the other end told her
there's no such program.
"She actually laughed because she couldn't believe that the kids had
collected so many," Bohli said. "To me, it was just so outstanding
that these kids made such a fantastic effort to help Jenny."
Walker Jones, community relations director for Coca-Cola in
Birmingham, said that while the company works with some cancer-related
charities, it does not redeem pop-tops for medical treatments.
Jones doesn't know who perpetuates the pop-tops rumor, but it has been
fizzing around for some time. "I think the myth has been going on for
over 20 years," she said.
That's typical of urban legends, said Joyce Cauthen, who has given
talks on the subject through the Alabama Humanities Foundation
Speakers Bureau. "That's the way urban legends are. They just don't
Instead, Cauthen said, they often are reinvented and applied to some
other product; next time, it might be soup cans.
Students at Pelham High tracked down pop-top hoarders across the metro
area. Jessie Kane, 17, found a man who had a collection of 50,000 and
persuaded him to donate them to the Bohli cause.
Alicia Creel, 18, pried the pop-tops off empty cans at her
after-school job. "I work with mechanics and they drink a lot of
Coke," she said.
At school sporting events, the band developed a halftime ritual during
which just about everyone dancers, cheering parents, teachers, baton
twirlers collectively broke open cans of Coke and tossed their
pop-tops into a box that was passed around the sections.
The pop-top collecting continues, despite the false information that
began it all. "They keep coming in and we can't stop them," Kane said.
Jeff Burnside, band director at Pelham High, said he was disappointed
when he learned Thursday that the collection was based on a myth.
"It's irritating because all these people think they've been getting
her treatments, and they haven't," he said. "It's very
He said that because so many other groups had heard about the program,
or had themselves been saving pop-tops for one reason or another, he
never doubted the legitimacy of the program.
Elizabeth also was surprised by the news. "A lot of people had heard
it. It wasn't just me."
Despite the disappointment, Burnside said he'd throw himself into
another fund-raising drive in a heartbeat. "We would do that and any
other project that would help somebody else," he said. "I like to see
the kids get involved."
In the meantime, a hot-pink handmade sign that says "Save your pop
tops" still hangs on the band room wall. Big garbage bags and little
Ziploc bags bulging with pop-tops continue to fill school storage
closets, the band room library and the Bohli home. A few dozen stray
ones lay strewn across Jenny's bedroom floor.
For the Bohlis, it's on to Plan B: Take the piles of aluminum to a
recycling plant and see how much they can get for them. The money
received from the metal will be deposited into the Jenny Bohli Cancer
Fund, to which people can contribute at the Pelham branch of AmSouth
Bank, her mother said.
Jenny had surgery in the fall to remove the melanoma and has begun
immunotherapy treatments, which the doctors want her to continue
taking for 11 months. She is doing pretty well, though the treatments
cause flu-like symptoms.
Meanwhile, Kane said the realization that the pop-top program doesn't
exist didn't burst her bubble. After all, she said, collecting the
pop-tops wasn't much trouble.
"People long to do something for somebody, and how much time does it
take to pop the top off a can of Coke?" she said. "It's an easy
And that's no myth.
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