Sean Penn’s Annual Haiti Relief Organization Gala Raises $3.5 Million

Sean Penn CORE Gala - H 2018 Getty
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Julia Roberts, Anderson Cooper, Jamie Foxx and other stars attended the ninth annual fundraiser.

Sean Penn and other stars such as Julia Roberts, Jamie Foxx and Anderson Cooper gathered for the ninth annual J/P Haitian Relief Organization fundraiser, held on the eve of the Golden Globes on Saturday at the Wiltern in Los Angeles.

Roberts took the stage to praise the evening’s honoree, Cooper, for drawing attention to the devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti in 2010.

“In Haiti he was often a first responder, a pioneer in a time of extreme uncertainty,” said Roberts. “Anderson Cooper charged into what was still a disaster zone, dangerous and full of more questions than answers. He reported the news, the truth that we all needed to hear. He gave Haitian communities a platform to express their needs and to be heard.”

Cooper praised the evening’s host and organization founder, Penn, for his efforts in the near decade that has passed since the crisis.

“When I heard Sean was coming to Port au Prince after the earthquake I’ll admit I was a little skeptical,” said Cooper. “I’m not sure, exactly, how Sean got to Port au Prince, because it certainly wasn’t easy. He stayed long after most of us had gone.”

At the top of an evening that also honored San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz and U.S. ambassador Kenneth Merten, Penn announced the organization’s rebranding into CORE (Community Organized Relief Effort), which will expand its efforts to crises beyond Haiti — in Puerto Rico, the continental U.S. and the Caribbean.

“Tonight we are going to graduate together,” said an emotional Penn to the audience.

The Oscar-winning actor consistently manages to draw an A-list crowd for the cause. In addition to Roberts and husband Danny Moder, cocktail hour at the star-studded event found Johnny Galecki and girlfriend Alaina Meyer catching up with Galecki’s Roseanne co-star Sara Gilbert and wife Linda Perry, who had curated the music for the evening. Longtime supporter of the organization, Garcelle Beauvais, brought activist boyfriend Ted Bunch to the party, prompting a “Look at you two!” from MC of the evening, Foxx. Connie Britton nearly took a spill on the red carpet, and Ben Stiller made a stealth appearance. Jimmy Kimmel and wife Molly McNearney spent cocktail hour chatting with Sarah Silverman and Larry David, who, in turn, snapped a picture with Senator Debbie Stabenow at her request. Casey Affleck and Floriana Lima kept to themselves, hand-in-hand, as Mike Myers laughed up a storm with Keegan Michael Key. Mark Burnett and Roma Downey mixed and mingled in the lobby, where the larger pieces of art, later auctioned off on stage, were on display.

The evening raised $3.5 million for the organization, which included a $750,000 donation from singer Jason Derulo and $50,000 from Myers. Roberts and Moder bid $100,000 for two tickets to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar and Penn, himself, picked up a Maria Kreyn oil painting, before pledging an additional $30,000 to the cause, which was matched by pals Cooper, Kimmel, McNearney and Foxx.

Other auction items included a trip to Haiti guided by Penn and Cooper, who promised to take the two guests parting with $100,000 each, to a Haitian voodoo festival. A private dinner from chef Jose Andres with an at-home concert from Yo Yo Ma commanded $200,000, once Cooper also offered to join the intimate dinner party.  

While a performance from Billie Eilish, and a set from Macy Gray that included her hit “I Try,” Blondie’s “Brass in Pocket,” by special request from Perry, and The Golden Girls theme song delighted the guests paying up to $10,000 per plate, the entertainment highlight of the evening was a surprise performance by Cat Stevens at the end of the night.

“I would like to thank Sean for being the brave one to invite me here,” singer Yusuf Islam said as he dedicated a song to Penn and his colleagues at J/P HRO, now CORE. “It was almost impossible getting me on the flight, but his bulldozing personality insisted to make it happen.”