Editor’s note: It’s been a little less than three years since Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins announced Child’s Play over at Penny Arcade. What seemed like a nice little ad-hoc plan quickly grew out of all proportion, resulting in an estimated $175,000 of toys and more than $27,000 cash being raised in less than six weeks.
Two years ago, they did it again, raising over $310,000; last year, $590,000. Add ’em up, and you’re looking at nearly $1.2 million. There have been black-tie charity dinners and auctions; large corporations sponsor the effort; one hospital grew to five, and the list has since gone international. Behind all that good is the work of a lot of volunteers, and the coordinating efforts of Kristin Lindsay, who was kind enough to take the time to talk with me, despite having recently produced a small human being using only time and basic household items.
Kristin Lindsay: I was lucky enough to miss the class where our counsellor showed off the Big Book of Grown-Up Jobs. I’m up in Vancouver, Canada, essentially a stay-at-home mom, married to a game programmer, and we’re part of the new trend of X-Treme Geek Families. Penny Arcade has always loomed large for us, and when the opportunity to serve as a volunteer for one of the early Necrowombicon fan conventions (the precursor to PAX), I jumped at the chance.
I became close friends with the Necrowombicon organizer, and was able to take a more active role as a volunteer the next year. When Penny Arcade founded PAX back in 2004, they asked me if I’d like to pitch in with that, and I was honoured to accept. I now serve at PAX every year, and am better known to much of the PA community as ‘Princess RedDot’, the Enforcer Wrangler and registration manager for the annual convention.
Working in that capacity segued into my ‘office job’ as the Child’s Play coordinator. Between PAX and Child’s Play, I work pretty much year round for Gabe and Tycho’s Dark Empire! I’d also like to point out that I’m currently the only female employee at Penny Arcade, which I mention as a shout out to all the girl gamers out there. :)
KL: Every year we see Child’s Play grow, thanks to the support of a pretty fabulous community. I enjoy dedicating myself to the program because I see a way to contribute as a gamer, to make a difference in someone’s life with a veritable army of fellow geeks beside me. I love to watch the map fill in, to see our reach expand, and know that we’re making that difference in more and more lives. I also get to work with, let’s face it, pretty much the most awesome co-workers in the entire universe.
Fleen: What sort of plans and goals do you have for Child’s Play this year? Any new events (like the dinner/auction), and how much would you like to raise this year?
KL: We do a handful of events ourselves, so much of the fundraisers are actually put together by fans and supporters. We also did a comic signing and poker tournament at Comic Stop in October, which was a lot of fun and raised quite a bit of money for the cause.
You mentioned our dinner auction, which is really the only official event that we put together from beginning to end ourselves. Last year we had about 200 guests at the dinner auction, and we’d love to beat that this year. I have dreams of seeing us raise over a million dollars in one year; it’s a pretty ambitious goal, but we’re always shocked at the incredible support from the gaming community, so I know that we’ll reach it soon. For this year, we’re aiming for $600,000.
Fleen: While we’re on the dinner auction, that must be a lot of work — coordinating vendors, venue, catering and making sure that the fundraiser doesn’t run at a loss. Do you get help from the others on the organization, and picking the menu to suit the refined palate of gamers?
KL: The dinner auction idea came up when we wanted to do something special to raise more money for the cause; it’s such a rare thing for us to get really dressed up and swanky and have a fancy dinner, so it’s been a lot of fun. We knew that with our generous sponsors we’d really be able to out together some amazing prizes, and they haven’t let us down.
We’re still working with the Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue as our dinner venue, which is where we’ve been holding PAX as well up until now. The staff there have been very good in helping us find ways to keep our costs down, and we’ll go back and forth with them for weeks finding out where we can trim our expenses, such as bringing our own A/V equipment. They provide all the catering and facility services for the dinner. The cost of the dinner is included in the ticket price, so we know that we won’t end up short at the end of the night; obviously our aim is to raise as much money as possible for the kids, so we don’t want to start at a negative.
I pick the dinner options myself, with careful attention to affordability and general appeal. For example, this year the chef offered a beet salad, which although it sounded delicious, I passed on. Not sure about how the masses feel about beets as a whole.
Fleen: Good call on the beets. What other kind of organizing do you have to do in the ‘off season’?
KL: We really never actually stop working on Child’s Play; donations roll in all year round, and new people come across the website throughout the year. While we move into high gear in the fall & winter, we’re still answering emails and talking to hospitals about the program all the time. For the big annual push, we start right after PAX (so in September) and are kept running well into the new year.
Fleen: I noticed the day that the Child’s Play site went live this year, the donation meter it already showed $50,000; how do you work with your sponsors to get off to a running start like that?
KL: Our sponsors are awesome. As I mentioned, we see donations come in all year round, so we start the toy drive component with a healthy head start. Most of our corporate sponsors are familiar with Penny Arcade and Child’s Play already, so they know what the program is all about and are keen to support it. We’re also always talking to people about the charity, and a lot of them become sponsors as well; word in the industry gets around pretty fast, we’re lucky that we have a lot of people coming to us, eager to hear more about what Child’s Play does.
Fleen: How do hospitals apply, and how are they chosen?
KL: Hospitals come to us primarily after being contacted by fans. They go through a very simple enrollment process: basically, I talk to them, they send it a letter and sometimes some requests, and we add them to the map! We try to have a good regional representation, we aim to have a hospital nearby for anyone to donate to; a hospital or two in every state and province would be great!
The international hospitals are a bit trickier to recruit. Hospitals in the UK have been notoriously difficult to enroll, as the National Health Trust over there works very differently in regards to fundraising and donation solicitation. We were pretty excited last year when Alder Hey was able to jump through all the government hoops to come onboard, and really owe the staff there a big thanks for working with us — an overseas charity they really didn’t know very much about! The UK fans played a big role in motivating that addition.
Fleen: How on earth did you get a hospital in Egypt?
KL: Egypt came onboard this year through the singular efforts of a very determined Penny Arcade fan and forum community member. He was familiar with the hospital and personally knows one of the doctors there, and recognized an extreme need. They were very patient with us as we did some research on their facility, and we were all thrilled at the end to welcome them aboard.
You’ll notice that we’re only accepting cash donations for them this year; we’ve done that for two reasons, primarily because most of Amazon’s games and electronics cannot be shipped to Egypt. Secondly, they are currently trying to raise money to decorate the children’s hospital rooms. Right now, parts of the hospital don’t even have basics like paint on the walls! Part of making a hospital a less scary and intimidating place for a child is having friendly and comfortable surroundings in addition to some toys, so we’re hoping to help make that a reality for them.
Fleen would like to thank Kristin Lindsay, Robert Khoo, and everybody else at Penny Arcade for their time, and work they do arranging Child’s Play. Space constraints prevented including all of Ms Lindsay’s extensive replies to my questions, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that every other sentence referred to all the work done not by herself, but by volunteers and ordinary readers.
That’s you she’s giving props to, Bunky, so make sure you live up to her praise. Child’s Play needs your help, in whatever form or amount you can spare; let’s you and me take the goal of $600,000 this year and blow it out of the water.