The Nuts and Bolts of THON

Eileen Seitz really needed a couch.

Not to sit down, mind you, though she certainly deserved a break. Between the rigors of her student teaching rotation and the demands of her role as Supply Logistics Director for THON – Penn State University’s annual dance marathon fundraiser – she certainly could have used a few minutes of crash time. But with prep time for THON running out, there was no time to put her feet up.

Besides, she didn’t have a couch. And she needed eight of them.

For eight months, she and her team of student volunteers hunted for couches that could be used for the Kids Lounge. That’s where Four Diamonds families – those families with a child dealing with cancer, the ones for whom the whole 46-hour THON Weekend and the calendar-long parade of preparations, planning and fundraising events exists to benefit and support – will relax “and take a break from the craziness of the floor,” said Eileen.

Her team called, emailed and otherwise reached out to roughly 100 potential donors, none of whom came through. Until one suddenly did, in mid-January, and Eileen could cross one item – “eight couches” – off her mammoth shopping list.

In a nutshell, that’s what the Supply Logistics committee is all about: finding in-kind donations of every conceivable item required to execute a one-of-a-kind campus campaign like THON, which runs year-round, involves 15,000 volunteers, five million manpower hours annually and has raised $136 million since its inception in 1977. Everything that the SLC can get donated is one less thing THON has to spend money on. And every dollar saved is a dollar donated to help Four Diamonds and the Penn State Children’s Hospital.

Eileen’s eight donated couches saved THON about $2,000 in would-be rental fees.

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Eileen Seitz, Supply Logistics Director of THON

“We have a team of donor contacts that reach out to donors across the country,” Eileen said. “We are endlessly calling new people, trying to retain old donors, emailing different business to find any obscure item requested, from couches to safety pins.”

Believe it or not, safety pins are a tough get. Back in the fall, they used more than 2,000 safety pins for the annual THON 5K (the biggest 5K in Central Pennsylvania), and they’ll need another 5,000 or so for THON Weekend. You can order a 10-gross package of safety pins for anywhere from $10-25, depending on the size you need. But 10 gross equates to only 1,440 safety pins. THON will use 50 gross, easy. As you can see, the numbers can add up.

Tape is another pesky procurement. There are 16 THON committees, all with their unique tape needs: Scotch tape, masking tape, painter’s tape, duct tape, gaffer’s tape, Gorilla tape.

Trash bags, too, have proven particularly problematic this year. SLC reached out to pretty much every company on the East Coast that sells trash bags. Eventually, they found their bag man – a willing donor in Illinois.

“It’s all amazing to me. I have a captain in charge of acquiring medical supplies for THON Weekend. That’s a huge task, and I had no idea Supply Logistics was even responsible for that,” Eileen said. “We’ve had to get ice packs, Advil, Pepto, those little bags that hold pills. There are so many supplies for that area alone, and it all gets donated. Otherwise, that could be another $5,000 we would have had to spend.”

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You might think that focusing on the nuts and bolts – literally – of the operation would be one of the less glamorous roles in the THON org chart. Eileen might even agree with you. But that doesn’t mean their behind-the-scenes work isn’t just as rewarding for volunteers as some of the more visible committees.

“It is a very obscure position, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You get to see how things really come together. And when you look at an event, you know that it’s happening because of so many of the things you got donated,” said Eileen.

For THON Weekend, Eileen estimates she and her committee will have received about 250 different types of in-kind donations, from Sharpies to lumber to the bags that Supply Logistics prepares and distributes to the 700 dancers. Every bit of it affects the bottom line of this massive charitable fundraiser – a reminder she uses frequently to keep her committee captains and small army of volunteers inspired through what sometimes can be a fruitless and frustrating series of unrequited requests.

“Every email and every phone call counts,” Eileen said. “Everything we do goes to save THON money. And without Supply Logistics, we would spend thousands of dollars every year that would not go to benefit Four Diamonds.”

Between now and THON Weekend (Feb. 17-19), we will continue to share the story of the THON experience from a variety of participant perspectives. You can follow these stories on the Campus Causes blog and find out more about THON on its website. As well, you can support THON by visiting a dedicated Campus Causes site created for them, selecting any one of 80 student campaigns and then shopping popular brands who give a portion of each purchase back to THON.

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