With great power comes great responsibility. If you had fame, fortune and a willing audience hanging on your every word, how would you choose to use your voice? Here are nine current celebrity-led charity campaigns which take that responsibility very seriously.
The overwhelming message of 2017? Humanity is screwed and this planet is a burning, stinking trash pile of misery. At least, that’s how it feels most days, when every news cycle brings us another awful update on the newest natural disaster, humanitarian crisis, act of complacency or abuse of power which will severely deplete the quality of life or chance of survival for whichever community has been affected.
Yes, many similar issues have occurred in the past and some are completely outside of our control no matter who’s calling the shots, but the utter deluge in recent times, combined with the internet’s real-time spread of information — something generations past never had at their disposal — has made it impossible to bury one’s head in the sand. Ignorance is no longer an excuse. We’re constantly witnessing the reality and constantly being called upon to help, if not in a hands-on way, then with our voices, our votes, or our wallets.
The support of a celebrity has a unique value in the world of charitable fundraising. While many politicians and activists devote their entire waking life to these worthy causes, the fact of the matter is that — for better or worse — those who are listening to them are often likely already inside the bubble, fighting alongside. When someone we follow for pleasure-based reasons, simply because we enjoy them and enjoy their work, chooses to use their platform to raise awareness, it widens that circle of support to include those who may not have any prior knowledge of that certain situation.
Given that famous people are, you know, human beings, not robots, aliens or figments of a collective mass imagination, it stands to reason that they, you know, care about things. A huge variety of charities have always depended on celebrity spokespeople, but more and more, as social media demolishes the fourth wall and we get to hear from most celebrities much more personally than ever before, we’re seeing a shift towards activism — with mixed response. In my book, anyone who spreads the super-dehumanizing holier-than-thou sanctimony about how “actors should stick to acting” and not offer their opinion on human rights issues doesn’t deserve to greedily devour the soul-searching work that an artist puts into creating entertainment.
Any creator — a writer, an actor, a musician — trades in empathy and emotional investment. It is literally their job to make you feel things, to help you understand circumstances you haven’t experienced, to expand the capacity of your heart. Your mileage may vary here, but if a creator has succeeded in doing this for you, the very least you can do in an attempt to shift that relationship from parasitic to symbiotic is to listen to what they have to say, learn about something you might not be aware of, and respect their right to do in real life what they do in their art — to connect the stories of those outside a certain experience with those who would never otherwise encounter it. To bridge the gaps in our understanding of the human condition.
On the flip side, emotional energy is precious, and nothing is owed besides common human decency. There is no “should” here, no guilt — please, at all times, make sure to secure your own mask before helping others. We’re all broke, donor fatigue is real, our technology has surpassed our coping mechanisms (we as basic animals do not actually have brains built to function with this much trauma, and it’s literally giving us PTSD) and the hits just keep coming. No human being can possibly fight — physically, mentally, financially — against every single piece of injustice that the world throws at us. It’s impossible. It’s especially exhausting when person-to-person crowdfunding becomes a standard replacement for the aid that say, a government should be providing.
But the fact that people always do try to pick up the slack — that when help doesn’t come from above, we pass the hat, because we are inherently a social species that believes in the common good — is not only inspiring, it’s intrinsic to our society. So. If you’re doing okay, and you are currently in the position to help with your wallet, here are nine causes and campaigns founded or supported by some of our favorite celebrities which are worth checking out.
Mariska Hargity – The Joyful Heart Foundation
“Our mission is to transform society’s response to sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse, support survivors’ healing, and end this violence forever.”
When Mariska Hargitay began playing Olivia Benson on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, her eyes were opened to the horrors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, not only through the research for her character’s cases, but through many confessional letters and encounters with fans of the show. Hargitay started the Joyful Heart Foundation in 2004 with a sense of responsibility about the stories she was hearing and portraying, and to date the foundation has helped over 18,500 survivors in their threefold programs of healing, education and advocacy.
In light of the slew of testimonies about sexual assault in Hollywood, Hypable has recently changed how it covers entertainment properties involving known abusers, and made a donation to Joyful Heart in honor of the survivors. You can either make a direct donation, or purchase something from Heartshop, where brands have partnered with Joyful Heart to create special products and donate a percentage of the proceeds.
Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal – Mexico Earthquake Relief
“You would imagine people would be running away from this cloud, but here was the opposite: everyone running towards the cloud, trying to get there, to save someone, to save a dog, to try and see if there was anything you could do…”
On September 19, an earthquake with the magnitude of 7.1 struck Central Mexico, causing damage in the states of Puebla, Morelos and to the Greater Mexico City area. This disaster came less than two weeks after another mammoth quake, reading 8.2, hit the country slightly further to the south. Over 350 were killed in the Mexico City earthquake, over 6,000 injured, and many more left with nothing after the collapse of many buildings. Rogue One star Diego Luna was in the city when it happened, and immediately began documenting the destruction on his social media. Within a few days, Luna and his lifelong best friend, fellow Mexican actor Gael García Bernal, had formally organized a fundraising campaign for the relief efforts in their home country.
Using the Omaze platform, which allows worldwide donations, Luna and Bernal have partnered with Ambulante, a grassroots organization which will distribute 100 percent of the funds directly to local organizations and social initiatives dedicated to helping those most affected by the catastrophe. This campaign has already raised over one million US dollars, and is still accepting donations.
Jensen Ackles and The CW – ‘Stronger Than Storms’
“Please help us as we work to get those impacted by these terrible disasters the help they need. Our love for one another truly is Stronger than Storms, and your support means the world to us.”
Texas is home to Supernatural’s Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki, so when Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area in August, the concept of a relief fundraiser within that particular fandom, one that’s raised tens of millions of dollars in support of causes the stars bring into the spotlight, wasn’t a question of if – just when and how. On this occasion, Ackles and his wife Danneel took to Crowdrise in the first instance, posting a campaign in the name of their new family brewery project. 100% of these proceeds are being distributed to local organizations by Random Acts, the non-profit founded by Ackles’ co-star Misha Collins, of which Danneel Ackles is also a board member. Family Business Beer Co also sold a t-shirt for those who want to rep their support, and Jared and Genevieve Padalecki partnered with another retailer, Pop & Suki, to create a jewelry product for the relief effort.
Supernatural’s home network The CW later added their official support to this campaign, elevating the initial person-to-person campaigning among the Supernatural community and exposing it to a much wider audience, via the casts of many of their other hit shows, such as Supergirl and The Flash. In the weeks that followed, has Hurricane Irma battered Florida and Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, Random Acts pledged to expand the fundraiser to include support for those areas in need as well. The campaign’s initial goal was $50,000 – it hit this within a day and was doubled by a matching donation from the Ackles family, and the target has now increased to $500,000.
Puerto Rico Comic Con and Stands – ‘Indivisible’
“Our goal is two-fold: To raise money for those in need and to remind those on the mainland that Puerto Rico is part of the United States, we stand with them, indivisible.”
After an already unusually active hurricane season, the damage that Maria caused when it made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 20 is beyond comprehension. One month later, there’s still a struggle to clear roads, operate hospitals, and provide food and reliable drinking water, with only 10% of the island’s 3.4 million residents regaining electricity. Amidst all this, a convention cancellation is low on the list of priorities, but incidentally, that did happen – the upcoming Ponce tour date of Puerto Rico Comic Con was scheduled to take place in mid-October, and obviously, it did not go ahead – but you can’t keep the geeks down for long.
Puerto Rico has now partnered with Illumina Productions, charitable merchandising brand Stands and the abovementioned Random Acts to aid the Por Los Nuestros Fund, a wholly Puerto Rican endeavor that carries out rescue and relief efforts in several areas, including education and health, among others. The Indivisible campaign – supported by a glut of TV celebrities including, just to name a few, Lana Parrilla, Jared Gilmore, Rebecca Mader and Michael Coleman of Once Upon a Time, Rick Gonzales and David Ramsey of Arrow, Misha Collins, Rachel Miner, Alaina Huffman and Osric Chau of Supernatural, and Katee Sackhoff of Battlestar Galactica – allows fans worldwide the chance to pledge their support via Stands by buying a t-shirt, with 100% of profits going toward relief.
If you wish to increase your donation, Stands also offers a chance to purchase shirts for those who cannot afford to contribute financially at the moment via a donor matching system.
Lin-Manuel Miranda – ‘Almost Like Praying’
“I see this as my new full-time job and writing musicals is my part-time job until there’s a sense of normalcy on the Island.”
Puerto Rico is an American-governed territory — these residents are all U.S. citizens, with the same entitlement to government aid as any other state, but the token response from the Trump administration has been misguidedly lackluster at best, spitefully sinister at worst.
Another celebrity deeply and tangibly affected by Hurricane Maria’s destruction of Puerto Rico is the universe’s favorite human being Lin-Manuel Miranda, who, after Trump’s famous feud with Carmen Yulín Cruz, mayor of San Juan, made headlines by telling the president that he’d be going straight to hell. New York-born to Puerto Rican parents, Miranda spent much of his childhood in their hometown of Vega Alta, and many of his family members still reside on the island.
Since the disaster struck, Miranda has barely taken time to sleep, using his single-mindedness and his knack at personally connecting with his audience to help amass $14 million in donations to the Hispanic Federation, of which his father, Luis Miranda, was the founding President.
Along with a plea for direct donations on social media and in a column for The Hollywood Reporter, Miranda also immediately penned “Almost Like Praying,” a new benefit song that riffs on West Side Story’s “Maria,” and called in every Latino artist who was available to add their voice to it – the final ensemble includes Marc Anthony, Ruben Blades, Camila Cabello, Pedro Capo, Dessa, Gloria Estefan, Fat Joe, Luis Fonsi, Juan Luis Guerra, Alex Lacamoire, John Leguizamo, Jennifer Lopez, Rita Moreno, Ednita Nazario, Joell Ortiz, Anthony Ramos, Gina Rodriguez, Gilberto Santa Rosa, PJ Sin Suela, Tommy Torres, and Ana Villafañe.
The single was released on October 6 with all proceeds going to the Hispanic Federation’s Unidos Puerto Relief campaign, and NBC aired a making-of special just last night. You can get “Almost Like Praying” on iTunes, Amazon or Spotify, or donate directly to the Hispanic Federation.
Riz Ahmed – Disasters Emergency Committee Appeal
“Their communities are being torn apart by terrible violence in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. It’s a humanitarian crisis on a catastrophic scale, created with bewildering speed.”
The ongoing persecution of the 1.1 million Rohingya people, a minority group of Muslim descent in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, has been condemned by the United Nations as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” – a genocide. Rohingya people have long been systematically persecuted by the Burmese government, which, contrary to historical evidence — the Rohingya have been settled in Burma-Myanmar for centuries — regards them as illegal migrants from Bangladesh and restricts their citizenship rights and access to government services.
In recent weeks, this fraught dynamic has escalated into catastrophe. In response to an attack on Myanmar border posts by insurgent groups, the Myanmar military and police force launched a “clearance operation” on the entire Rohingya population, killing thousands and sending half a million people to flee into neighboring Bangladesh as refugees. There have been countless reports of rape, extrajudicial killing, and the burning of homes and villages. Many aid organizations are assessing this as the fastest-growing humanitarian crisis since the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Emmy winner, rapper and Rogue One star Riz Ahmed has leant his voice and platform to this cause, as a spokesperson for the Disasters Emergency Committee.
In times of crisis, the DEC brings together 13 of the UK’s leading aid charities for a collective appeal in order to provide rapid relief. This appeal is accepting donations from most cardholders in any country, and the UK government has pledged to match the first £5 million raised by the public.
Neil Gaiman – UN Refugee Agency
“If anyone could have the conversations I had, if only everyone could sit and speak to refugees, face to face, they would see that we really are the same, that we really are part of one family.”
In February 2017, genre-bending master storyteller Neil Gaiman was announced as a global Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, known as UNHCR or the UN Refugee Agency. This official appointment came after several years of close support from the author, who traveled to the Syrian refugee camps in Jordan in 2014 in an effort to raise awareness and build empathy for the Syrian refugee crisis – a journey which both devastated and inspired him.
Gaiman advocates for the work of UNHCR through media interviews and via his social media channels and has initiated and supported multiple campaigns and fundraising drives, including one, earlier this year, that raised $100,000 in an attempt to hear the author use his mellifluous tones to recite the menu of The Cheesecake Factory. Gaiman, who has family connections to the Jewish refugee experience during World War II, has sought to lessen the mental disconnect that those living in privilege can fall prey to when trying to empathize with those in circumstances they assume could never happen to them.
“It’s not just about financial support, although funds are desperately needed and every donation is deeply appreciated (please do donate!),” he writes. “It’s also about staying informed and helping tell the refugee story – to friends, to family, at school, at work, around the kitchen table.” While the Syrian refugee crisis is far from over, Gaiman has also expressed his concern over the Rohingya plight, and supports the UNHCR’s pledge of $344 million to the Rohingya refugees and host communities in Bangladesh. You can make either a general donation on the UNHCR’s website, on Gaiman’s personal ambassador page, or choose to support a specific emergency appeal, like Syria or Rohingya.
Sami Zayn – ‘Sami for Syria’
“These numbers and these words kind of start not meaning anything after a while, until you’re able to kind of put a human face to it. In my case, that’s a lot easier because again, we’re talking about my family.””
Another celebrity uniquely connected to the Syrian refugee crisis is WWE Superstar Sami Zayn. A first-generation Canadian of Syrian descent, Zayn has watched in horror as his homeland has been torn apart by civil unrest since 2011. Some of Zayn’s relatives have luckily been able to seek asylum in Canada, and while many Syrians have fled as refugees, many more are still living among the ruin.
In conjunction with the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) Foundation, a US-based, non-political, non-religious, medical relief organization that provides millions of Syrians with urgent and life-saving medical services, the wrestler launched “Sami for Syria,” a fundraiser to set up a new Mobile Medical Unit that allows urgent care – both for physical and mental health – to be brought to the doorsteps of those struggling to survive in isolated areas. Zayn’s initial goal of $48,000 was reached in August, and his first MMU is out on the road treating people – he’s now doubled the goal in the hopes of launching a second mobile health clinic next year. “It’s really about trying to put a face to this,” Zayn said in an interview.
“That’s one thing that I think I can maybe help do. I think a lot of our fanbase, a lot of people, you see what’s going on in the news and you don’t really know any Syrian people. I have no problem being a relatable face to people who otherwise maybe don’t really know any Syrians or don’t really interact with Syrians. I think if I can kind of be a representative and kind of put a face to it for people and shed a little light on what’s going on, then I think that’s a good thing. That’s what I’m trying to do.” You can donate here to help Zayn fund another MMU for Syrian residents.
Misha Collins – Dreams to Acts: Nicaragua
“We believe in following the lead of locals in empowering their communities rather than imposing our ideas, so you can be confident that your support of these projects will lead to genuine improvements in people’s lives.”
You’ll have seen Random Acts, the non-profit organization founded by Supernatural’s Misha Collins, namedropped a couple of times already in this feature – this organization has a lot of fingers in a lot of pies, spreading their resources across the globe to assist in funding or facilitating random acts of kindness, large and small, wherever needed.
The Dreams to Acts projects are perhaps the most ambitious of their endeavors: multi-year initiatives to identify needs within certain communities, and make those into reality. In recent years, Random Acts has been assisting in the building of a new campus for the Free High School in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua – a grassroots nonprofit organization that provides access to education for adolescents and adults who are excluded from regular schools.
Each year, the organization runs a fundraising drive and takes a group of volunteers and top fundraisers out to the site to assist in the current works, and the school is almost completed – this year’s drive will go towards the construction of a second building and outfitting the school with supplies before its projected opening date in February 2018. Nicaragua is Random Acts’ second major destination project since its inception in 2010 – the first, now completed and operating, was the building of the Jacmel Children’s Center, an orphanage in Haiti.
You can currently support one of the many volunteers attempting to attend the next trip to Nicaragua – spots are granted to the first 25 supporters who manage to raise $5000 through the official Crowdrise, so take your pick – or you can purchase a 2018 “Women of Supernatural” calendar via Stands, with free shipping worldwide and 100% of proceeds going towards the Jacmel Children’s Center.
To all mentioned and many more: thank you for making a difference
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