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FW: [UL] Urban legend drives charity pop-top push

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  • A.J. Wright
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 15, 2002
      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@...

      -----Original Message-----
      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
      pop-tops collected.

      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
      immunotherapy treatments.

      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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