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Canning Through The Years

For the final time, canners will take to the streets this weekend raising money for THON and Four Diamonds. Much like THON itself, involvement in canning has changed through the years.

There is no certain date or occasion for the beginning of this event that stretched decades, but ahead of the last canning trip, there’s a lot of history to be told.


The Interfraternity Council/Panhellenic Dance Marathon didn’t start until 1973, but canning was a fixture within the Penn State community well before the first THON.

According the Daily Collegian archives, canning was used for different sorority and fraternity fundraisers, although there is no certainty of how it started or when it originated.

Canning wasn’t really an activity where students left the State College area. Instead, they often worked for donations on the local street corners of downtown.

With the popularity of the event, the Borough of State College began regulating canning in 1970.


Canners weren’t always looked upon as the dedicated philanthropist they’re considered today.

“They stand on the street corner in the cold, begging for money. Passers- by try their best to avoid them,” a Daily Collegian article from 1987 reads.

A different article from 1989 referred to State College as “canned-out.”

For the majority of the decade, it seemed most canners stayed in the Penn State area. However, the lack of fresh donors probably helped lead to canners beginning to travel outside Centre County, to mostly Pennsylvania cities but “as far as Washington D.C.”

The only stipulation was that canning outside State College had to be after the Marathon’s kick-off dinner, which was usually scheduled for early February.


Heading into the early 90s, THON still hadn’t hit the mainstream across the nation and canners struggled with the image of “pestering” folks on street corners for donations.

“A woman from Baltimore had just called to complain to the Interfraternity Council/Panhellenic Dance Marathon headquarters — she had been stopped three times by canners and was not happy,” an excerpt from a 1992 Daily Collegian article read.

That began to change later in the decade, when THON continued to grow and ultimately moved to Rec Hall. Canning became even more of an integral to the fundraising experience, if not for the numbers, for the memories gained and bonds formed between canners.

For the first time in 1998, canning trips were planned for the fall semester.


The turn of the century continued the explosive growth of THON. The THON total reached new heights year after year, surpassing $5 million for the first time in 2007.

However, the competitiveness of the organizations reached new heights as well with the growing pressure of putting up large contributions in the org’s name for the final THON total. Sigma Alpha Epsilon imposed a $30 fee prior to THON 2005 for those who didn’t attend canning trips to make up for their lost contributions. Several other orgs followed suit in subsequent years.


On December 3, 2011, 18-year-old freshman Courtney O’Bryan died on the way home from a canning trip when the vehicle she was riding in encountered black ice and flipped over.

Another car accident happened on a canning trip the following February, but students sustained just minor injuries.

Following the death and the February accident, canning weekends were no longer held during winter months. The three canning weekends held fundraising for THON 2013 were held from September-November of 2012.


On September 27, 2015, sophomore Tally Sepot died in a single-car car accident on the way home from a canning trip. THON went on to cancel both of the remaining canning trips leading up to THON 2016.


THON originally decided to stand by canning, with THON 2016 PR director Lily Beatty saying “We are committed to preserving canning. But we’re doing so in a careful way in working with the university to find ways to mitigate any risk involved.” 

Just two months later, however, the nail in the coffin was delivered — THON announced it would phase out canning by 2019.

THON scheduled two canning weekends to raise funds for THON 2017 and announced the final canning weekend ever would take place during the fall 2017 semester, raising funds for THON 2018.

Editor’s note: We reached out to THON for more information on the history of canning, but were told “there’s not much information to provide.” The organization changed its archival system in the early 2010s and the information is no longer available.

About the Author

Steve Connelly

Steve Connelly is a junior majoring in PR and an editor for Onward State. He is a proud native of the state of New Jersey, and yes, he is literal trash. He is a soccer fan, nap enthusiast, and chicken tender connoisseur. He tried to be a photographer once, but the only good thing that came out of it is a name for his future sports bar, The Blurry Zamboni. You can follow him on Twitter @slc2o (feel free to slide), email him at [email protected], or come say hi to him in his office, the Irving's basement.


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