Good Neighbors: Meeples for Peeples

“Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” ~ Mr. Rodgers

Meeples for Peeples started as a way to get board games into the hands of people that could use them. Since their first event at Geekway to the West this summer, they’ve collected and distributed over 400 gently used board games to distribute to organizations serving in the St. Louis area. This weekend they’ll be hosting an event at Miniature Market, and they hope to collect over 1000 games to distribute to children’s hospitals, educators, group homes, hospitals, senior centers, and ESL programs throughout the rest of the year. I caught up with group’s founder, Melinda Johnson, to talk about their mission.

What was the catalyst the brought about Meeples for Peeples?

My husband and I were rearranging our game shelves one night and had several games set aside that we knew we weren’t going to play anymore. We talked about selling them on the social media “buy sell trade” sites, the virtual flea market on Board Game Geek for our local convention, and said to ourselves “wouldn’t it be cool if there was a board game charity?” – We found the Spiel Foundation, but they don’t take used games. We did some light “googling” and saw there weren’t a lot of organizations that had a mission of re-homing gently used hobby/niche games as well as new games to educators, low income families, deployed military personnel, and so on. We mentioned it casually to our game group during our weekly game night, and talked a little about the idea, then moved on to other things. I woke up the next morning to a series of texts one of our friends sent at 1:30 am going on about how excited he was about the idea and that’s when we realized we could do something unique.

How do you hope to help the community?

Hobby games can be expensive. Through our research, we learned the US Department of Education reported (as of May 2018) more than 90% of teachers spend their own money on classroom and educational supplies. We provide educators with subject specific board games to incorporate into the classroom to keep students engaged through interactive learning. Additionally, we assist a local food pantry (Circle of Concern) with age appropriate games to be included in the Birthday Club bag given to parents. One of my memories as a kid are family game nights – my parents were low income, and one of the things we did regularly was make some popcorn and have game night. Once the game is on the shelf, it costs nothing to put it on the table and play it. Help students start game clubs at school, ship games to deployed military personnel, provide games to senior centers, VA hospitals, or any other organization who could benefit from our services. Connecting with people is important. Several articles have been written which describe the benefits of board games – from critical thinking, to spatial awareness, detect patterns, cognitive skills, developing verbal and communication skills, to dexterity games for occupational therapy to improve muscle and nerve function over time. The best part is you can have fun while learning these skills and gaining these benefits.

Why do you think gaming and community service is a good fit?

For our group, gaming is an outlet from every day stress and a way to get together and socialize – and sharing that outlet is only a small part of the connection to community service. We’ve had the privilege to work with a group called Manifested Mercy who believes everyone deserves a second chance. They use games as a recovery tool for those battling addiction and removing themselves from incarceration by choosing games that have low conflict to encourage critical thinking and build positive social interaction skills. Yes, games are fun – they’re full of colorful bits, cards, and boards – but they can also be powerful tools when applied to appropriate settings. Another example is a librarian who reached out looking for help for a group of students who have some anxiety issues and find retreat with her at the school library. I have suffered from panic and anxiety disorder my entire life, so this request was personal for me. Carefully selecting games that she can use to gradually get them to overcome some of that anxiety through low interaction and building up to games that require more interaction was such a fun challenge.

How have people been receptive to the idea?

To our surprise, the community has been overwhelmingly supportive. During our first board game drive at Geekway to the West we received several comments from individuals saying, “It’s about time someone started an organization to do something like this.” “Thank you so much, I am so glad these games will go to someone who will play them since my kids outgrew them.” – I can’t even tell you how rewarding it was and how much those words meant to us, even more shocking was the amount of games we received – almost 400 games, 100 of which were brand new. It was clear people want to see their unwanted games being played and bring joy to individuals who may not have had the opportunity otherwise to try hobby games.

What’s your next event?

Our next event is Saturday, November 17th at the Miniature Market Retail Superstore. This is our year-end fundraiser, and we’ve set a hefty goal to try to collect 1000 new games to be distributed to small independent organizations who serve low income families in the St. Louis and surrounding areas through the holiday season. In addition to the games, we’re collecting non-perishable food and personal care items.

We really want to spread the word on ways people can support us through some of their day-to-day activities no matter where they are in the US. A lot of people don’t know how much these programs can help nonprofit organizations. Follow Meeples for Peeples work on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.