Welcome to THON, the world’s largest student-run philanthropy hosted by none other than The Penn State University. This 46-hour dance marathon has raised millions in the past. Dancing, music, and lights dominate the arena, but what about the food?

“Are you ready to embrace your first ever THON”- said by public relations captain, Danielle Blitzer. Moments prior to stepping on the dance floor, it felt like I was walking into a gladiator arena. It was loud and fruitful to say the least.    

Fatima Alqallaf

Stepping into the atmosphere, there was a sudden rush of energy and camaraderie, as I felt the rush of energy slap me in the face like a crisp wind on a cold winter’s day. Attending THON resembles an intact pizza pie, very much a part of an entire whole.

Two words came to mind as I stepped onto the dance floor: “woah” and “wow.” The feelings of togetherness and unity left me with no words. I was speechless. There were dancers, families, spectators, students, children, performers and most importantly the glue that mends it all together... food.

Wave of Students & Gatorade

Fatima Alqallaf

Standing there as one of the—what seemed like—infinite amount of students was surely overwhelming. However, it was dubbed a controlled chaos, describing both the events and the food.

Hospitality captains and student volunteers must serve approximately 700 dancers during this long weekend as well as countless families. The dancers were well fed and energized throughout the entire event.

With all these delectable options, the hospitality department still managed to serve foods that are both nutritious and delicious. There were a plethora of granola bars, fruit snacks and fresh fruit at each snack station, just waiting to be consumed by a dancer.

Fatima Alqallaf

Dancers would stop by and fuel up for the long hours ahead. As said by one of the hospitality captains, "whenever I'm down, food is always a great pick me up."

Dancers were not only well fed but well energized with simple snacks, such as fresh apples, bananas, and peanut butter.

The Hospitality of Hospitality

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Verified by participants, the hospitality department had exceeded all expectations from years prior. It’s not what only happens “on stage” that matters, but it's the behind-the-scenes action that really define an event’s success.

This year's THON food selection was generally a “you name it, we’ve got it” situation. There were snack shacks, some filled with average Sheetz goodies and others with peanut butter and jelly stations.

Fatima Alqallaf

If these delicious snacks don’t get you going for 46 hours, I’m not sure what can!

Big and small corporations, such like Wegmans, Home D Pizzeria, and Cold Stone Creamery had pitched in to help fuel dancers for the long journey ahead. There were fruit platters, pasta, ice cream, and granola bars served throughout the entire event. 

Not Only Pizza and Chips

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The majority of staff and families spoke very highly of this year’s selection. A THON child’s mother serves not only as a certified dietitian but also as an alumnus who participated in past THONs.

She explained to me how every year was special, but this year alone, she has never seen such a wide variety of selection. Usually it was only pizza and chips, not a surplus of it.

She specifically mentions how there were eggs and egg white options, in which she felt was quite important. With options like vegan/vegetarian wraps, dancers could be fueled for long periods of time without the worry of dietary restrictions.

And of course, students with dietary restrictions may bring in food as well.

THON Food Creates a Community

Fatima Alqallaf

Having the opportunity to go behind the scenes, I was immersed in the communal atmosphere and true Penn State “cult” bonding when it came to the THON food scene.

I asked a hospitality captain what really inspired her to pursue such a position. Her response: “food brings people together.”

Raised with a father in food marketing and prior experiences leading a high school “mini THON,” she was able to merge the two worlds, enhancing the food scene at THON 2019.

Fatima Alqallaf

Other meal captains expressed their interests in such occupation with their major; Marissa, a nutrition major at Penn State expresses that one should “fuel to optimal nutritional status and a snack goes a very long way.”

With such a large selection of healthy and nutritious foods and beverages, we should congratulate and thank the captains who led the charge!

Going the Extra Mile!

Fatima Alqallaf

Without the Hospitality captains’ passion and enthusiasm, the selection could have “gone down the drain,” so to speak. They explained that their 2019 goal was to push for not only healthier choices, but safer choices.

They accommodated in providing foods for those with dietary and allergic restrictions. In fact, those with allergies, dancer or child, received a colored wristband that paired with the food.

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Thus, servers could efficiently serve food without the worry of triggering an anaphylactic reaction in the consumer. Pretty neat right? Not to mention the abundance of charts and ingredient binders that were present at each table. 

And the Results...

Take away: what you put in your body fuels you for just about anything...like a 46-hour dance marathon. Although the dancing created a unity amongst Penn Staters, the great food created a community.

This THON community bonded over meals, thanking dancers, playing with the kids (FTK), and interacting with hospitality captains. THON raised an outstanding amount of $10,621,683.76 to help children and families, in hopes of one day celebrating for a cure.

We do it for the kids, for a better tomorrow and for our future! FTK!

Fatima Alqallaf