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Penn State's THON fundraiser hurt by molestation scandal, superstorm

| Monday, Nov. 12, 2012, 12:08 a.m.
Penn State University student Kim Foerster raises money for 'Thon' along William Penn Highway in Monroeville Sunday, November 11, 2012. (Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review)
Penn State University student Kim Foerster raises money for 'Thon' along William Penn Highway in Monroeville Sunday, November 11, 2012. (Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review)
Penn State University student Lauren Shaw raises money for 'Thon' along William Penn Highway in Monroeville Sunday, November 11, 2012. (Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review)
Penn State University student Kim Foerster raises money for 'Thon' along William Penn Highway in Monroeville Sunday, November 11, 2012. (Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review)

Battered by a hurricane on the East Coast and a child sex abuse scandal that drew national attention for months, the annual THON at Penn State University might have a harder time raising money this year to fight childhood cancer, some students say.

“We're actually not doing well this year,” said Justin Horvath, 20, a junior from Clinton, N.J., who sought donations on Sunday in Monroeville. “Not bad, but not as good.”

Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was sentenced last month to 30 to 60 years in prison for child sex abuse, some of which took place on campus. A grand jury indicted three former Penn State administrators — fired President Graham Spanier, retired Vice President Gary Schultz and suspended Athletic Director Tim Curley — on charges of trying to cover up the scandal. The board fired icon Joe Paterno as head football coach, and he died in January at 85.

Horvath and a half dozen other students from Pi Kappa Phi fraternity and Alpha Chi Omega sorority strolled down William Penn Highway on Sunday at the entrance to Miracle Mile Shopping Center. The students, wearing posters that read “Help Kids Fight Cancer,” jangled coffee cans and shouted for donations.

Some drivers and passengers lowered their windows and dropped bills or change into the jar.

Melissa Milanak, a teacher at Saltsburg High School, donated a couple of dollars.

“I teach kids who went to Penn State who did the THON,” she said.

Sophie, 12, of Plum donated $1. Her mother went to Penn State, and she would like to follow suit.

“It's for kids' cancer. It's a good cause,” said her father, Eric, who declined to give their last name.

Most motorists, including a man wearing Penn State gear in a black car with Nittany Lion seatbacks, simply drove away.

“We come out every weekend, every year, and it's upsetting that a lot of people don't even give us spare change,” said Jane Moreland, 20, a junior from Mechanicsburg, Cumberland County. “They look at us funny.

“I think it's a misconception we want fives and tens,” she continued. “We'd be happy with spare change.”

This marks the third of three canning trips by Penn State students at busy intersections. The students fan out from Massachusetts to Virginia to raise money. Student groups also hold their own fundraisers and get corporate sponsorships. The event culminates in a dance marathon, called THON, Feb. 15-17 at Penn State.

The students raised a record $10,686,924 last year, helped in part when the Paterno family urged mourners to give to THON in lieu of sending flowers.

This year, though, students face a different climate.

A report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, which was released in July, implicated Paterno in helping conceal Sandusky's activities from the community, authorities and the university board.

A hurricane struck the East Coast, damaging power lines and canceling some THON fundraising trips.

Moreland and other fundraisers said rude comments from motorists have been scarce, but some have asked if the money goes to Sandusky or the university. The money benefits The Four Diamonds Cancer Fund at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital.

Ben Kamens, 21, a junior from Bala Cynwyd in Montgomery County, blamed the hurricane for diverting donations that might have gone to THON.

He said he is sorry about the child abuse tragedy.

“We're all here to show Penn State is more than football and more than a party school,” Kamens said. “We care about kids.”

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

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