The world of politics can be a difficult one to navigate. But that isn’t deterring a group of eight freshmen at Council Rock North from diving headfirst into the tedious legislative process for a pretty sweet cause – securing Hershey’s Kisses as Pennsylvania’s official candy.
It all started in January when Newtown Middle School history teacher Richard Loughran proposed the initiative to the students, who were eighth-graders at the time, to teach them a real-life lesson on lobbying.
They were all for it and the Hershey Kiss Committee was officially formed.
“When you think of Pennsylvania, you really think of the Hershey’s Kiss, so that’s where it all really truly started,” said committee member Lana Hakma in a recent interview with The Times.
In its first year, much progress has been made. Approval was granted by Hershey spokesperson Jeff Beckman and Hershey director of government relations Joanna Turner to move forward with the project. Local leaders, including state Rep. Perry Warren (D-31st dist.) and state Sen. Maria Collett (D-12th dist.) also expressed their support.
However, the committee’s biggest achievement to date came several weeks ago, when Rep. Tom Mehaffie (R-106th dist.) agreed to introduce House Bill 2150, which would officially add Hershey’s Kisses to the list of state symbols alongside the mountain laurel as the state flower, the white-tailed deer as the state animal and, as of 2019, the Eastern hellbender as the state amphibian. House Bill 2150 includes “whereas” statements crafted by the students.
“I’m so impressed by these young people who have poured their talents and time into getting Hershey’s Kisses the recognition they deserve. I have to admit that this is something that should have been done years ago, as the Hershey area is a tourism hub and major manufacturer of chocolate,” said Mehaffie, who represents Derry Township, also known as Hershey. “The Hershey Co. produces 70 million Kisses each day, and many in our region celebrate New Year’s Eve with a 300-pound Kiss featured on the square in Hershey.”
House Bill 2150 is currently waiting to be voted out of the House State Government Committee.
In the meantime, the Hershey Kiss Committee is working to secure a senator who’s willing to introduce a companion bill in the Senate. At the top of the list is Collett, whom the students intend to follow up with soon.
They’re also spreading the word about the bill on social media via Instagram, Twitter and, soon, TikTok. Residents are encouraged to share these posts so that more legislators may see them, take an interest in the initiative and become a co-sponsor of the bill.
“You have to have a lot of connections and communications with people. It’s a very long process,” said committee member Cameron Forsyth. “It’s been almost a year and we only have a bill in the House and we’re trying to get a companion bill in the Senate. It’s definitely a long process.”
Still, if House Bill 2150 gets passed, the time and effort will be worth it.
“If this gets passed, then you’re a part of something so big that’s actually a bill or a law,” said committee member Elaine Liaw. “I think that’s really exciting and just an awesome opportunity to be a part of that.”
Committee member Kacie Welch hopes their work inspires other kids and teens to speak up about topics they care about.
“It’s encouraging young people to try to be a part of something,” she said. “We have a voice and we can use it, too. A lot of people kind of look down on younger people because we’re not as experienced, but it’ll help us all learn.”
Emily Kennedy, president of the Hershey Kiss Committee, never imagined how much this work would positively affect her.
“I can’t even begin to explain what this means to me and to us as a group. This isn’t just about making an iconic candy the state candy of Pennsylvania, but learning about how it can get to that point,” she said. “We have been able to create a community within our own community and learn as a whole about this legislative process. Honestly, that is more than I could have ever asked for out of this one-time learning opportunity and with this amazing group of girls and advisers.”
The Hershey Kiss Committee is also comprised of vice president Kaitlyn Landers, Varsha Garimella and Audrey Thomson.
Visit thekiss4pa.org for more information. Follow along on Instagram and Twitter at @thekiss4PA and the hashtag #TheKiss4PA.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org