A package of 'Cheer' heads to bullied teen in Michigan
By Mark Wineka
SALISBURY - Sometime Tuesday, Whitney Kropp should have been receiving an unusual care package from North Carolina. Kropp, a Michigan teenager, probably opened a soft-bodied cooler containing soft drinks, a "Legend' T-shirt, hooded sweatshirt and stickers - all of which carried a name unfamiliar to her: Cheerwine. Salisbury-based Carolina Beverage Corp. sent off the Cheerwine goodie package last Friday after hearing about Kropp's being voted onto her high school's homecoming court as a joke. The bullying aspect behind the "prank" led to Kropp's spending a night in tears and contemplating suicide. But pushed by family, friends and a supportive community, Kropp decided to stay on the homecoming court, and her story of resolve became national news. "This whole issue around bullying in school has reached epidemic levels," said Tom Barbitta, senior vice president of marketing and sales for Cheerwine. "... You can't go a week without hearing about some tragic situation in some part of the country." It has become even worse, he added, with the prevalence of social media. Barbitta said when Cheerwine officials in Salisbury heard how her community in West Branch, Mich., had rallied behind Kropp, they saw it as a simple opportunity "to put a smile on her face." "That's kind of what the company is about," Barbitta said Tuesday. After Kropp decided to stay on the homecoming court as the sophomore class female representative, local businesses in West Branch donated a gown and shoes. A salon furnished her a new hair-do, while a Facebook page created for Kropp drew 96,000 likes from across the nation. She attended the homecoming ceremony at Friday night's football game and the homecoming dance Saturday night. Cheerwine, which has mostly a Southern footprint, is not distributed in Michigan. "We're happy to be able to do it," Barbitta said of the "Cheer" package. "We're doing it because it's the right thing. I think she's a pretty remarkable young lady." Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.