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Area support strong for THON

Liz McHugh of Pittston hosted a THON fundraiser at the River Grille in Plains Township on Saturday. THON is an annual dance marathon in February held at Penn State’s main campus, where students dance to raise money in the fight against pediatric cancer.

Pete G. Wilcox/The Times Leader

PLAINS TOWNSHIP – Penn State students canvassed for cash and celebrated Saturday to support the university’s annual THON dance marathon.

The fundraiser, which benefits children undergoing treatment for cancer, has been an annual institution in State College since 1973, but this year’s marathon will be the first since the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal rocked the Penn State campus.

Volunteers Tuesday said the scandal isn’t something they can ignore, but they didn’t feel it had a negative impact on their fundraising efforts.

“Honestly, it was always in the back of everyone’s mind,” said student Brittany DeGrazia, 21, of Patterson, N.Y. “But you have to just hope people realize we’re doing it for the right reasons, and we didn’t encounter anyone that wanted to shut us down or anything like that.”

“I think that our community in general is really sad and upset over it, but (THON) is something that over 15,000 people are involved with,” said Liz McHugh, one of the organizers of the local fundraiser.

McHugh, 21, of Pittston, and Melissa Ripepi, 21, of Harrison City, Westmoreland County, canvassed for donations with other current students Saturday morning and hosted a fundraising party at the River Grille in the evening in an effort to win a spot in February’s dance marathon.

Students entering as independents, as opposed to through a student organization, can enter a lottery to win one of 700 spots in the marathon if they raise more than $2,500, and gain another chance for every $500 they raise over that amount.

The pair said they had collected about $3,000 by the end of the day Saturday.

If anything, student volunteers said the Sandusky scandal’s impact may have actually helped their efforts in collecting money.

“I saw more support than normal,” said student Charlie Allen, 22, of West Pittston. “This area’s very pro-Penn State, especially having the local campus. I feel like we saw people step up and try to help out Penn State’s reputation.”

“A lot of alumni have been involved in THON,” Ripepi said. “Like today, some people stopped that had Penn State stickers on their cars. You could see that they were willing to give a little more.”

This year’s THON is scheduled for Feb. 17-19 in the Bryce Jordan Center on the Penn State main campus in State College. Since 1973, the event has raised more than $78 million to benefit children undergoing treatment for cancer through The Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital.

Last year more than 15,000 student volunteers helped to raise more than $9.5 million.

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