Famously charitable: celebrities offer support to hurricane victims


(From left) Justin Bieber, Oprah, and Sofia Vergara answer phone calls during the Hand in Hand Telethon. Photo courtesy of ABC News.

Mikaela Krim Staff Writer

In the wake of destructive hurricanes Harvey and Irma, celebrities are leading some major support efforts to help victims in the devastated areas. 

Category four Hurricane Harvey blew through Texas on Aug. 25, leaving behind a trail of destruction and a legacy as one of the worst storms in recent history.  Over 450,000 people are expected to register with the federal government as disaster victims, with 200,000 homes damaged in a path of destruction that spanned over 300 miles. 

Although less severe than Harvey, Hurricane Irma delivered the second of the one-two punch to the United States, tearing through Florida on Sunday, Sept. 10. The Florida Keys saw particular damage, with estimates of total home destruction ranging from 25-90 percent and a death toll of 30 that continues to climb. 160,000 Florida evacuees currently sit in shelters, bringing the total shelter inhabitant population to nearly 400,000. It is impossible to guess at the number of displaced, currently living out of hotels, cars or relatives’ homes.  

Damage estimates are valued between $70 and $108 billion for Harvey, while recent cost predictions for Irma’s destruction ring in at up to $172 billion. 

In order to combat the astronomical price of restructuring, disaster relief agencies have sprung into action. Various foundations, in addition to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), have put boots on the ground in Texas and Florida to deliver necessary supplies, provide medical care, repair homes and support local organizations. Thankfully, some of the country’s highest earners have heeded the call in a hope to make a difference through both personal donations and mobilization.  

Actor Ryan Reynolds turned to Instagram in an effort to raise money for the Americares emergency response team. Posing in a white t-shirt stretched over his Deadpool suit, the 40-year old actor petitioned followers to buy the pictured shirt and watch the proceeds go to the charity. “Or,” he writes, in quintessentially Reynoldsian fashion, “skip the —-ing t-shirts altogether. Donate directly at Americares.org or use CharityNavigator.org to find the charity of your choice.” 

Instagram also served as the medium of choice for Spanish singer Enrique Iglesias and R&B star Missy Elliot, who begged evacuees not to abandon their pets.

Stranded in Florida for the duration of Hurricane Irma, actress Kristin Bell found an opportunity to brighten the mood, giving live performances to evacuees at a Florida middle school. The actress also gave shelter to “Frozen” costar Josh Gad’s family, who was also stranded in the state.

 Billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson took a more hands-on approach, working on the ground in the British Virgin Islands to provide water, supplies and shelter to those affected by the storms. 

Raised in the Virgin Islands, former NBA player Tim Duncan pledged to match $1 million in donations for Hurricane Irma relief. Duncan’s efforts proved effective—he surpassed his goal and raised over $3 million. 

Perhaps the most widely publicized event was a one-hour benefit telethon organized by rapper Bun B and talent manager Scooter Braun. The extravaganza aired on Tuesday Sept. 12 and was headlined by Beyoncé, Blake Shelton, Oprah Winfrey and Barbra Streisand, among other high-profile names. Proceeds from the event—ntitled “Hand in Hand: A Benefit for Hurricane Harvey Relief,”—went to a number of organizations including the United Way of Great Houston, Habitat for Humanity and Save the Children. Over $44 million was raised, and donations continue to be accepted via phone and text message. 

For those looking to get involved in relief efforts, the University offers a number of options. Campus Ministry continues to collect donations during weekend masses for two organizations. Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA) is the official domestic relief agency of the U.S. Catholic Church while Casa Juan Diego specifically seeks to serve refugees and the poor. Both are gathering funds to supply food and clothing to those affected.