Jennifer Garner Goes Rogue, Zendaya Honors Tommy Hilfiger at Save the Children Gala

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Jennifer Garner shares her passion for Save the Children at the organization’s centennial gala Thursday night.

Among the night’s honorees, Camila Cabello pledged to raise $250,000 for the organization, which provides assistance to children around the world.

Jennifer Garner announced she was going rogue at Thursday night’s Save the Children Centennial Gala, putting aside her prepared speech in favor of an impassioned, impromptu recitation of people who have inspired her — “specific kids I’ve met in the past year and their parents because, as a mom, you can’t help but connect to the moms” — while working for the organization.

Garner’s travels for Save the Children have taken her all over the U.S. in the past 12 months, from northwest Washington (where she met Cindy, who was caring for her own special-needs child as well as her brother’s child, all on $40 a month) to Deming, N.M. (where, at a shelter near the Mexican border, she met a mother who had carried her 19-year-old paraplegic daughter for 19 days). Upon reaching the shelter, she discovered the Save the Children station, “with help and a doctor, and she thought she had reached actual Heaven,” Garner said.

The actress also trekked to Alligator, Miss., where she was stopped by a grandmother who wanted to know why her grandchildren’s after-school program had been taken away, and wasn’t satisfied when Garner explained that the funding for buses had been lost. “But I told her I was going to go to New York and stand in front of a lot of people dressed in fancy clothes, and tell them they need to donate money so her grandbabies can get their program back,” she added.

And donate they did in the Hammerstein Ballroom on Thursday night. An auction-like round of fundraising, with donation commitments sent via text, resulted in pledges totaling almost $500,000, many of them in tribute to Save the Children CEO Carolyn Miles, who announced at the start of the night that she was leaving her post after 21 years (many donations included the hashtags #CarolynRules and #CarolynForPresident). 

“There are few people who get to do something as amazing as making the world a better place for kids,” Miles said. “I have met so many kids over those years; I’ve been to 90 countries with Save the Children. Last year we helped 134 million people, 41 million of them children. We got to make their lives better, and that is a complete honor.” Other donations announced Thursday evening included a $10 million pledge from the Bezos Family Foundation, and from presenting sponsor Johnson & Johnson, $5 million for Save the Children’s Centennial Commitment, which is directed toward disaster relief and humanitarian assistance. 

Three of those beneficiaries were present Thursday night, introduced by Garner, Miles and actor Michiel Huisman (The Haunting of Hill House). Nine-year-old Hope from Kentucky has increased both her reading skills and love of books as a result of Save the Children, while Given, a teenager from Zambia, passionately talked about her love of school, and 19-year-old Maryam, a Nigerian law student, discussed the importance of advocating for children’s rights. “It’s awesome,” Hope said of her visit to New York, adding that her favorite moment was visiting the Statue of Liberty. 

Camila Cabello, who visited Save the Children programs in Puerto Rico after the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017, accepted the Voice Award from Miles and announced that she would raise $250,000 for the organization.

“Humanity owes the child the best it has to give,” Cabello told the audience, quoting Save the Children founder Eglantyne Jebb, who started the organization in 1919. “My family and I didn’t have much when I was growing up, but just because you don’t have everything, it doesn’t mean you have nothing. You can still have hopes, you can still have a dream, you can still lift yourself and others up along the way. I feel so, so fortunate that I can have a platform that allows me to speak up for issues I strongly believe in, and to use my voice for kids…kids who are immigrants, refugees, are living in challenging conditions in the United States and all over the world.” 

Zendaya also was among the guests, on hand to present Tommy Hilfiger with the night’s Humanitarian Award. On the red carpet prior to the event, Hilfiger was quick to credit Manny Chirico, chairman and CEO of PVH Corp., owner of the Tommy Hilfiger brand, as key to his company’s commitment to giving. “Manny never says no — we bring him ideas all the time, for MS or autism or so many other programs in need, and he never says no. That’s really meaningful,” Hilfiger told The Hollywood Reporter. “We’re very engaged in supporting what is right and helping people, whether they’re autistic or have breast cancer or they’re children in need. We’ve been very successful, so we should give back. But I’m only the recipient tonight for the company.” Miles added later in the evening that PVH Corp. had just made a $3 million gift to Save the Children. 

During this centennial year, the organization estimates that, over the past 100 years, it’s provided assistance for more than 1 billion children around the world. “I could have been one of those children,” model Halima Aden, who was born in a refugee camp in Kenya, told THR on the red carpet. “The first seven years of my life, the formative years, were spent in a refugee camp. I lived it, so you have no idea how grateful I am for organizations like this, especially these days, when the refugee crisis is more real than ever. Tonight means the world to me.” 

Little Big Town capped the night by performing two songs: their hit “Bring It Home” and a new song that honored the work of Save the Children, “Problem Child.” 

A second Save the Children centennial gala will take place Oct. 2 at the Beverly Hills Hilton. For information about the West Coast event, visit savethechildren.org.