PDXLAN, the country’s biggest formal LAN party, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, realized that people like food. So during their 2013 event, they raises a staggering 37,500 pounds of food for the Portland Union Gospel Mission with a good ol’ fashioned food drive. Let’s put this in perspective. 37,500 lbs of food is 18.75 tons. That’s 9 sedans worth of food, almost 3 1/2 African bush elephants and other obscure metrics I feel like conjuring. Here’s an image of their haul:
Normally, local and national news media love to offset their daily requirement of scaring the shit out of you with mercury in your vaccines, terrorism, financial panic, war, famine, and Kardashians with some fluffy feel-good stuff, like local food drives and homeless shelters and kittens in turkey costumes. So you would think the Portland media, the bastion of liberal do-gooders, would swoop on this like a feminist bookstore closing. Nope.
The event happened on Nov 8th. Despite PDXLAN reaching out to a large variety of local media sources, the response was deafeningly silent. There was only a tiny little bit on Channel 8 KGW Live@7, on November 26th, a full two and half weeks after it happened. It seemed no one was interested in 3 1/2 African Bush elephants worth of food donated by gamers. I reached out to Matt Conwell, the lead organizer for PDXLAN 2013, last week before the Thanksgiving holiday. Ironically, this interview was done on the same day the Live@7 segment aired.
Tell me a little bit about your organization. What is PDXLAN?
Matt Conwell: PDXLAN is a gaming community that host three 500 person LAN Parties per year in the Pacific Northwest. Gamers from as far as New York City, North Carolina, and Canada make the trek with their entire desktop computer to play video games and win cool prizes from sponsors like NVIDIA, Thermaktake, and Crucial Memory. A typical event is 3-4 days long and filled with tournaments, fun contests, and presentations from our sponsors.
How did the food drive get started? How successful has it been in the past?
Matt Conwell: Over the years, I have seen so many people with large communities not leverage their communities into action. I wanted to use our community to do more than just one person could on their own so I put my efforts into organizing a food drive. Our food drive is different than most because we are encouraging 400 people to do their own micro-food drives, which really magnified our efforts the past 2 years.
Is this your biggest year?
Matt Conwell: YES! 🙂
5 Year totals:
2009 – 4,700 pounds
2010 – 8,500 pounds
2011 – 16,000 pounds
2012 – 24,000 pounds
2013 – 37,500 pounds
What’s been the participant’s reaction to the food drive? Has it been popular considering how many attend?
Matt Conwell: Oh, the attendees love it! They love being part of “something” bigger than themselves. They really get into it. One group of 10 brought in 4,000 pounds of food on their own.
How did you get involved with the Union Gospel Mission in particular?
Matt Conwell: What I really like about the UGM is that if they get too much of one thing, they will donate it to other food banks. I’ve known other local food banks to let food rot without thought of the other food banks. This impressed me most about UGM.
You’ve donated to Child’s Play, Smile Train, and the Red Cross. Why did you choose to donate to Union Gospel in particular, and not a cash donation to another organization?
Matt Conwell: November to me is about reflecting on what I have to be thankful for. It is so unimaginable to me that starvation exists in the US and that there are families and people that don’t have the most basic human needs. Because of that situation, I really want to call attention to GIVE to local food banks.
Some other facts about UGM and Food:
1. The Union Gospel Mission will cook 130 turkeys this year. On Thanksgiving Day alone.
2. While our food donation made a difference, there are still people on a list for box meals that will not get one because there still isn’t enough food to feed all those in need.
3. The UGM cooks 575 meals per DAY in their “soup kitchen” – providing warm meals to those who come in off of the street.
4. The UGM also provides 600 meals a day to families in Portland via the “Box Dinner” program. Over 300 families per day do not get food because there is not enough.
Give, and give hard. The good that you all have done is GREAT – but it is so sad to know that starvation is a real thing here in the USA. It’s not a distant thing that only plagues Africa. It’s a thing that happens right here.
Which Portland media outlets did you contact?
Matt Conwell: We contacted Fox, NBC, and CBS affiliates.
Have you contacted local media in the past?
Matt Conwell: Yes.
What did they say when you told them about your story?
Matt Conwell: We emailed them what we were doing and invited them to come by to see it for themselves. No one responded to the request. It really hurt me as I really want the mainstream view of gamers to change. We really wanted to show that 99.999999% of the gamers out there are good people doing good things. Gamers are an interesting marketing segment to study. They are doctors, lawyers, students, construction workers, IT specialists, web programers, chip designers, marketing execs, police officers, fire fighters, EMT’s, etc. They are not the stereo-typical kid in the basement with no social interaction – gaming is WAY beyond that.
Why do you think they chose not to run this story? 18.75 tons of food for a local food bank is a big deal. They most likely ran feel-good stories about other food drives during the holiday season. Why do you think they ignored it?
Matt Conwell: I can’t speak for them, but I would guess that the story doesn’t have the shock value of a shooting, some animal abuse, or a car wreck. It’s really sad to see a culture not focus on the good humanity is doing as well as the bad.
What was the general reaction among organizers and participants to the refusal to cover the story?
Matt Conwell: Largely disbelief. Gamers today feel the media wants to portray them as the bad guys. This story did not seem to fit the mass media’s preconceptions of who gamers are. My wife is a clinical psychologist who has studied gaming addiction and violence. In her research, she came across this: “It’s now more clinically relevant if a young person does NOT play video games than if they do” – Gaming is something almost everyone under 40 does in some way. Be in from Facebook games to phone games. Be it from console or computer.
Lastly, what does the food drive mean for you personally?
Matt Conwell: A quote I really like is “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me’. ~Erma Bombeck”
To me, I feel I am trying with every ounce of my being to make a difference. I am blessed to be a leader of such an awesome gaming community – with that comes the responsibility to do good things with it. I am so proud of them!
It was only after the following image went viral that local media started to pay attention:
I also reached out to the Union Gospel Mission directly and spoke with Stacy Keen, their media representative. She was equally perplexed as to why Portland media initially blew off the Mission’s single largest group donation. But the important thing is that PDXLAN raised the equivalent weight of a Viking longboat in canned and non-perishable goods. People got fed. That’s what counts.
For more info on PDXLAN and their event schedule, go to their homepage.