Hearts As Large As Their Wallets: Celebrities Who Donated Big During Natural Disasters

June 6, 2013  |  
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Some celebrities are known for their philanthropic work, whether it be giving back to the community or volunteering their time for a specific cause. Here’s a list of celebrities who dug deep in their hearts and wallets to donate big when a natural disaster struck:

When a catastrophic earthquake rocked the tiny Caribbean country of Haiti, it killed more than 230,000 and left millions more without a home. Former Fugees frontman Wyclef Jean was one of the first people who made their way down to his home country to help search for survivors. In addition to helping out physically, the rapper/producer used the power of social media to ask for help, raising more than $1 million for Yele Haiti with a single tweet. All of Jean’s hard work would be overshadowed a year later when his charity came under fire for allegedly squandering millions of dollars in donations. Jean has since released a statement acknowledging the organization’s mistakes and vowed to continue on. “The new and good news is that Yele, under new leadership, despite efforts to undermine its credibility and effectiveness, continues its mission to serve people in need.”

Supermodel Gisele Bundchen is known for her stunning looks but the former Victoria Secret’s model is also known for her philanthropy. Throughout her career, Bundchen has donated to several charities in her home country of Brazil, including projects that help protect the Amazon rain forest. When Haiti was struck by one of the most devastating disasters to ever hit, Bundchen wasted no time offering help in the form of money. Bundchen, who reportedly earns over $30 million annually and is currently married to NFL quarterback Tom Brady, donated $1.5 million to the Red Cross Haitian relief fund.

Madonna is no stranger to controversy. The mega popstar is used to making headlines, whether it be for her outlandish outfits, interesting choice of lovers or for swapping saliva with Britney Spears. In 2010 when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti, the “Like A Virgin” singer donated $250,000 to Partners in Health, an organization that provides health services to the impoverished Caribbean country.

Angelina Jolie and her partner Brad Pitt are two of the most generous philanthropists in Hollywood. Jolie and Pitt are known for reaching into their large bank accounts and giving big to causes near and dear to their hearts. In 2008, they donated $2 million to help children affected by AIDS and tuberculosis in Ethiopia. After a massive earthquake rocked Haiti, Jolie and Pitt gave big to help the rescue efforts after Haiti. The duo pledged $1 million to MSF/Doctors Without Borders for the organization’s operations in Haiti.

Oscar-winning actress Sandra Bullock donated big when a tragic disaster struck halfway across the world from where Bullock considers home. In March of 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit Japan triggering devastating tsunamis, which left thousands dead, billions of dollars worth of damage behind and a weakened nuclear power plant. America’s sweetheart pledged $1 million to the American Red Cross towards the earthquake and tsunami relief efforts in the island country. Japan saw things go from bad to worse when one of the nuclear plants had a meltdown and leaked toxic radioactive chemicals into the environment.

NBA superstar Kevin Durant hails from Washington, D.C. but he came to the rescue in his adopted home state when a tornado touched down in Oklahoma and killed 14 people. Durant, who plays forward for the Oklahoma City Thunder, donated $1 million dollars after an E-Force 5 tornado wrecked havoc in the town of Moore. Following the generous gesture that was initiated by Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association matched his donation of $1 million each. The all-star also reached out to Nike who agreed to donate $1 million worth of Nike products to tornado victims. Durant also paid a visit to Moore to sign autographs and pose for photos with the victims.

Lady Gaga has traveled the world ten times over but she never forgets where she came from. Six months ago, a hurricane came bearing down on the shores of New York bringing the city that never sleeps to a standstill. The “Born This Way” singer gave $1 million to the American Red Cross to help with the relief efforts. “If it wasn’t for NYC: the Lower Eastside, Harlem, the Bronx and Brooklyn, I would not be the woman or artist that I am today,” Gaga, 26, posted on her Little Monsters blog. “New York is relentless ambition, a drive to succeed, a place where there is a natural pursuit of diversity through compassion.”

Oklahoma native Carrie Underwood was moved to tears when she heard that an E-Force 5 tornado touched down and left a trail of devastation and victims homeless in Oklahoma in May. The “American Idol” alum donated $1 million from the proceeds of her Blown Away tour to the American Red Cross. “I have watched the devastation in my home state of Oklahoma over the past several days with great sadness,” said Underwood. “With the help of my fans who attended my concerts over the past year, we can offer the Red Cross a little extra help in comforting those affected by the recent tornadoes.”

Oprah Winfrey does everything big and that includes her philanthropic efforts. The media mogul gives money to numerous charities and organizations throughout the year, both publicly and behind closed doors. In 2005, the Gulf coast was ground zero for one of the deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history. Hurricane Katrina killed almost 2,000 people across several states and left millions and millions without a roof over their heads. Cutting her vacation short, Winfrey made her way down to New Orleans. “I was sitting at home feeling frustrated and useless, like so many other people, so I came down to personally assess how I could best be of service,” said the talk show host. In addition to her presence, the big O donated $10 million to help Katrina victims rebuild their homes.

Oprah Winfrey wasn’t the only talk show host to donate big when it came time to help Hurricane Katrina victims. Rosie O’Donnell donated more than $5.7 million to several charities to help those displaced and affected by the natural disaster. Among them was her own organization, For All Kids Foundation, who teamed up with several corporate sponsors to build classrooms and playgrounds in Louisiana. O’Donnell was moved to do something when she visited the area and saw children had nowhere to play. She also helped move 20 families into apartments in surrounding areas and even purchased cars to help residents get to their jobs.

Bethenny Frankel is a true New Yorker and she cares about her hometown. The former reality television show star wasted no time in helping out her fellow New Yorkers who were affected by last year’s Hurricane Sandy. The “Real Housewives of New York” alum and owner of Skinnygirl cocktails gave $50,000 to the American Red Cross to aid in the relief efforts. Frankel’s company matched her donation and gave another $50,000 to the Red Cross and donated 5,000 Skinnygirl On-the-Go Bars to the New Jersey Red Cross to hand out to those in need of food.

Lance Armstrong is now one of the most hated men in sports but before he became such a polarizing individual, the professional cyclist had a heart of gold. The former seven-time Tour de France winner opened up his wallet to help those affected by the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti. Armstrong made a pledge of $125,000. This wasn’t the first of his charitable acts. Armstrong, who famously battled testicular cancer, has donated to numerous charities and organizations that focus funding cancer research but he has stayed out of the public eye once he admitted to doping allegations and has since been stripped of his titles.

When disasters strike, everyone in the neighborhood can be affected and that includes family pets. Talk show host Rachael Ray opened up her wallet to help the four-legged victims that were displaced when Hurricane Sandy rained down on the Eastern seaboard last year. The cooking diva gave $500,000 to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) to help families and pets put the pieces of their lives back together. Some of the money went to lease a building in New York to shelter animals that had no homes to return to. The money was also used to help families to be reunited with their pets, provide food and supplies and veterinary services.

Media mogul Ted Turner has never had a problem opening his sizable wallet to help those in need. The Cincinnati native and founder of the United Nations Foundation gave $1 million to go towards the rescue and relief efforts after an earthquake in Haiti left hundreds of thousands dead and millions more homeless. Turner also urged others to follow suit and give what they could to help those in dire need in a statement: “We are committing $1 million today to address the most urgent humanitarian and re-construction needs in Haiti. The United Nations Foundation is calling on its partners and friends to add their support by contributing to the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), which is the UN’s humanitarian fund responding to emergencies like the earthquake in Haiti.” Turner also gave $1 billion over the span of a decade to the U.N. to help their causes.

Comedian Chelsea Handler is known for trading barbs via twitter with other celebrities but beneath her mean exterior is a giving heart. When actor John C. Reilly paid a visit to her talk show “Chelsea Lately,” he urged viewers to donate to the Red Cross to help the victims affected by Hurricane Sandy. Moved by the Wreck-It Ralph star’s gesture, Handler pledged $100,000 in Reilly’s name to the organization.

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