Peggy DiPrima didn’t know about Jake Straus’ position as a well-known professional gaming streamer or the size of his online following when he approached her about his intention to raise money for the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society earlier this year.
In fact, she wasn’t entirely clear about how the Washougal resident planned to raise money.
“He contacted me and said, ‘Hey, I want to do a Twitch fundraiser for you,’” said DiPrima, the Washougal animal shelter’s director of advancement, development, fundraising and events. “I was like, ‘What’s Twitch?’”
DiPrima found out during the final weekend of October, when Straus used the popular streaming platform to raise $50,205 for the WCGHS.
“Most third-party fundraisers bring in a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, but never in the history of WCGHS have we seen this amount of money raised by a third-party fundraiser. My mind is still blown,” said WCGHS Executive Director Micki Simeone. “The community needs to know about the power of the gaming community and the gift they just gave WCGHS. I’m calling it ‘gaming for good.’”
DiPrima said that she was “shocked” with the final total, which surprised Straus as well.
“I like to go into these with very little expectation and very little pressure,” said Straus, who conducted the fundraiser during two 12-hour streams held Oct. 28-29. “I didn’t tell the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society anything about my previous fundraisers because I didn’t want their expectations to be too high. I realistically set the goal for $25,000, (but) I thought we’d get more. We got $28,000 on the first day, and I was like, ‘Wow, that’s great. We probably won’t get too much more (tomorrow) because I’m sure everybody’s put in what they’re willing to put in already.’ And then the next day, we almost matched it, so I was surprised. We had a very exciting late push during the final hour.”
Straus, known in the gaming world as “GernaderJake,” has been streaming on Twitch since early 2015, specializing in first-person shooter games such as “Destiny,” “Fortnite,” “Apex Legends” and “H1Z1, and has more than 531,000 followers.
“In college, I was streaming maybe three or four hours a week without any intention of it turning into anything else,” said Straus, who grew up in Northern California and attended Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.
“I took a year off after I graduated, and during that year, I started putting more time into streaming, and as I put more time into it, more people started watching, and that made me want to put more time in, and it kind of snowballed to a place where I was making enough (money) to sort of feel like it was a job. A year after that, I was making enough to make it feel like a career. And the year after that it was even better, and it just kind of continued on like that.”
Straus, who moved to Clark County with his wife, Kelsey, in 2017, said that they “have always had animals in (their) lives.”
“We both grew up with pets,” he said. “Once we got our house, we immediately got two dogs and a cat. We have a bunny. Now we foster cats. We have a very soft spot for animals.”
The couple began serving as foster kitten parents for WCGHS in 2022.
“I think they just like us,” DiPrima said. “They were saying, ‘We travel a lot, and other places that we’ve tried to foster (for) wanted us to be committed for X amount of time, but you guys are good with us saying, ‘OK, we can foster for two weeks, but then we’re going to be gone for a month, and then when we come back, we can foster some more.’”
When the time came to select the beneficiary of his next fundraiser, Straus viewed the local animal shelter as a natural fit.
“I always like to focus on animals when I’m fundraising,” said Straus, who raised a combined $83,000 in two previous fundraisers. “Twitch always has fundraisers for so many great things, but they’re never focused on animals, so I like to be the one to do that. I knew I wanted to be fundraising soon — I like to do it every couple of years — and I felt like, ‘Well, we’re already working with the shelter. We can see firsthand that the money would do so much good for this shelter because they’re small and they’re local. It just felt like the right choice to be doing it for them because we already work with them and because we know the money is going to be really important.”
During the fundraiser, Straus played “Destiny 2,” talked about the WCGHS and directed his viewers to a link to donate funds. He also rewarded the most generous donors with some prizes, such as codes for in-game collectibles.
“The narrative around it was that the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society is funded 100% through donations — they’re not funded by the state — and in order to pay for all the surgeries that these animals need and the food these animals need and the care these animals need, they have to have donations to do it,” Straus said. “I was telling everybody who donated, ‘You are quite literally saving the lives of animals.’”
At the conclusion of the fundraiser, Straus delivered a series of grateful messages to his followers, colloquially known as “The Jungle Squad.”
“(I told them), ‘Not only is this money so helpful for the shelter, but we opened the eyes of many to the good the gaming community can do,’” Straus said. “We didn’t just raise money for an amazing cause. We demonstrated to a lot of folks who maybe don’t know much about the gaming community or may not necessarily have great images in their head of what a gaming community means that we can do really powerful and really good things.”
The donation couldn’t have come at a better time for the animal shelter.
“Weirdly, we’ve had a lot of health issues with cats and dogs recently,” DiPrima said. “We were thinking, ‘How are we going to take care of this?’ We’ve had tens of thousands of dollars of medical costs in the last month or so. This (donation) was a godsend. This is how we are sustained in tough times. When an animal comes to us, we make a lifetime commitment to it. When people come to us and say, ‘My animal is in trouble,’ or ‘I can’t afford to take care of it,’ we try to do everything we can to help them and take care of their animal. In order for us to be able to say, ‘Yes’ and do everything that we can for these animals, these (donations) are what allow us to do that.”
The stream also helped WCGHS in other ways, according to DiPrima.
“He spent the weekend exposing us to a lot of people who had never been exposed to us before,” she said. “I’m sure there were some local people (who donated, but also) many, many people who are not local. We even had some people reach out to us through Jake that said, ‘We live out of town, but we would be interested in coming there to adopt.’”
To view Straus’ livestreams, visit twitch.tv/gernaderjake.