Preston and Steve Stamp Out Hunger
BY RICHARD RYS
|Stamping out hunger: Preston Elliot and Steve Morrison|
In the WMMR studio minutes after their show has ended, hosts Preston Elliot and Steve Morrison are explaining how their campaign to fight hunger in Philadelphia nearly resulted in a Cecily Tynan flambé. Years ago, back when their Camp Out For Hunger food drive was big on heart but low on logistical support like heated tents, enduring the weeklong outdoor broadcast following Thanksgiving felt like surviving the Iditarod. Expensive sound equipment was encased in plastic wrap as snow and rain fell. The only relief from the elements was an RV warmed with space heaters, while outside flames rose from a few 50-gallon drums, one of which Action News weeknight meteorologist Tynan had cozied up to a little too closely. She survived unscathed, but her camelhair coat was not so lucky. Despite the hazards, the unforgiving elements are essential to the cause, according to Morrison. “The weather makes it resonate with people. You relate to the charity and what people are going through.”
Morning-drive FM rock radio shows are not a typical bastion of activism. But dating back to The Preston & Steve Show’s past life on the late great Y100, the Camp Out for Hunger has blossomed from a grassroots effort in 1998 into the largest single-sponsored food drive in the nation, according to its organizers. The proceeds are used to fill the cupboards of Philabundance, and their Camp Out supplies often last into the spring. “It’s a really good cause, one we knew people would rally around,” says Elliot. “Asking for money for research is not as kinetic. This is a basic thing—you hand it over.”
The event, which this year kicks off on November 28, has become something of a local holiday tradition. One dedicated listener begins collecting in January, asking every houseguest throughout the year to bring canned food, and rents a truck to deliver her bounty to the Camp Out site in the Plymouth Meeting Metroplex parking lot.
This being the Preston & Steve crew, of course, there are plenty of hijinks to go with all of the dogooding. Fans of the show competed in the “Undie 500” go-kart race in their skivvies; another crowd-pleasing stunt involved firebreathers stomping across a scale-model city, a la Godzilla. Celebrity guests have been known to join in on the tomfoolery: Ex-Flyer John LeClair drove a car into giant bowling pins, and Food Network’s Marc Summers assaulted a few of the show’s listeners with a chili cannon.
|Live from Camp Out for Hunger|
Today’s Camp Out bears little resemblance to those treacherous early years. There is a heated 40-by-60-foot tent, around-the-clock entertainment, and, for everyone’s safety, qualified forklift operators—back in the day, Morrison nearly wiped out half the staff while loading pallets of canned goods. Yet with the economy on shaky ground and unemployment holding steady at troubling levels, the cause is more important than ever. The hosts say they have seen people stop by to donate who have received help from Philabundance in the past, and he stresses that many who need aid are not homeless. “You see a lot of working poor,” says Morrison, “people trying to make ends meet.”
Back in the WMMR studio, listener Pam Davis is introduced as a Camp Out all-star. Two years ago, she donated $10,000 in memory of her late husband and was rewarded with backstage passes to a Bon Jovi concert (she brought her sons). It is that spirit the Preston & Steve cast says has made the Camp Out so successful. “It is not a dour, sad thing,” Morrison says. “It is a life-affirming thing. People connect to that energy.” Preston & Steve’s Camp Out for Hunger is held at the Metroplex Shopping Center parking lot, in Plymouth Meeting, from Monday, November 28 to Friday, December 2. Donations can be made from 6 AM to 8 PM Monday through Thursday, and 6 AM to 11 AM on Friday. 610- 771-0933; wmmr.com