Gaming met giving this Halloween for the team at the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society.
Over the holiday weekend, Vancouver-based professional gamer and foster kitten parent Jake Straus, who goes by the tag GernaderJake, raised $50,000 during two 12-hour Twitch streams Oct. 28-29.
Twitch is an interactive livestream platform where users can stream their own video games, talk shows, music and e-sport competitions.
Straus and his wife, Kelsey Straus, have been fostering two kittens from the Washougal shelter for a little more than a year, so the idea of using gaming to give back to the local shelter in his community seemed like an easy decision, Jake Straus said.
While the gamer has previously used his platform to raise funds for other organizations, this particular contribution is the largest for both him and the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society.
“It feels very empowering to have so many people watching me, but it brings a whole new layer when we do something like this fundraiser,” Straus said. “We take what we already do on a daily basis, which is to support each other and try to make each other’s day, and add a whole layer of meaning.”
The West Columbia Gorge Humane Society, established in 1994, dedicates its services and programs to supporting the animals in need from its community. Executive Director Michelle Simeone dubbed the unexpected success “Gaming for Good.” She and other members of the team expressed both shock and gratitude at the fundraiser’s results.
Simeone and Peggy DiPrima, development director, said most third-party fundraisers typically generate a few thousand dollars, making Straus’ livestream donation the largest ever contributed by a third party.
“We were both blown away because we had no idea what Twitch was,” Simeone said. “We’ve always wanted to know how to tap into the younger generations, and then this happened. The generosity and ease that Jake made this happen was incredible.”
Gaming meets giving
Straus grew up playing Nintendo along with his brother and dad, but it wasn’t until college that things kicked off for him in the gaming world. He learned about Twitch from a friend and decided to give it a try in 2015. And in the nine years since Straus started streaming, he’s gained more than 531,000 followers.
“In my senior year of college, I started to stream on Twitch purely as a hobby,” Straus said. “I started to stream more and naturally, my viewership started to increase and it sort of snowballed.”
Straus shared that he and his wife have always been animal lovers, caring for their own two dogs, a bunny and two foster kittens.
Prior to his latest stream, Straus hosted two successful livestream fundraisers, raising $38,000 and $45,000 on separate occasions.
Straus said supporting the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society was another chance to use his platform for positive change in the animal community. Straus said through gaming, he’s found a strong sense of community, and this fundraiser was just one example of what they can do.
“It brings attention to this idea that the gaming community, which maybe doesn’t necessarily have the best image, that it does really incredible, powerful things,” Straus said. “It feels really good to not only do those things, but to sort of enlighten others on what the gaming community is capable of.”
Simeone said the donation will help to pay for soaring veterinary costs, while continuing to support animals in need.
“We have had many animals come to us recently with illness and in need of special procedures/surgeries,” she explained. “These cases cannot be handled internally or with a general practice veterinarian, so we must send these animals to specialists or a veterinary ER.”
To adopt a pet, make a donation or volunteer at the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society, visit https://wcghs.org/.
This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.