STATE COLLEGE, Pa. --Penn State's annual charity dance marathon is phasing out a controversial fundraising effort after two students died in recent years and the event focuses on alternative ways to raise money.
Officials with Thon released a letter Thursday saying "canning" will be phased out entirely in 2019. Until then, some changes will be enacted.
The announcement comes after a 19-year-old sophomore died in a one-car crash in September. Another student died in December 2011 while traveling for a canning weekend.
Former Thon executive director Katie Mailey and the nonprofit's current chair Austin Sommerer cited stagnant growth from canning efforts, as well as safety of student participants, as reasons for the change.
"If we move our time and resources to more innovative fundraising solutions, we are developing methods that have room to grow, whereas canning has not seen significant growth in many years," they wrote. For instance, online donations are up, they say, as are physical check donations.
Only two weekends - Sept. 23-25 and Oct. 28-30 - will be set aside in the fall for the popular fundraising effort, in which students ask motorists around the region to drop donations into large cans.
Only one weekend will be set aside the next year.
Safety changes include the introduction of online courses that drivers must take before they can register for a canning weekend. Volunteers must also complete an online safety course before taking part in canning trips.
Thon, the 46-hour event billed as the largest student-run philanthropy, raised more than $9.7 million for pediatric cancer care this year. That was significantly lower than the 2015 total of over $13 million.
In November, Mailey indicated the organization was working on a "sustainable and robust solution" to safety concerns for students after the death of Vitalya Sepot of Branford, Connecticut,
She was in a car full of students heading back to State College after a canning trip when the accident happened on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, near King of Prussia. The students were with the sorority Alpha Chi Omega and fraternity Tau Kappa Epsilon.
"While we are saddened to see one of our traditions come to an end in the next two years, we are excited to see the growth of our fundraising and student engagement efforts in other areas," Mailey and Sommerer wrote.