Sarah Michelle Gellar on Philanthropy, 'Punky Brewster' and Surviving Pandemic

Sarah Michelle Gellar
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After contributing 50 million meals last April, Subaru has doubled down on its commitment to get food to those in need by pledging 100 million meals to hunger-relief organization Feeding America as a way to put a dent in America's food inequality amid the COVID-19 pandemic. To spread the word, the automaker partnered with Sarah Michelle Gellar, actress, producer, food entrepreneur and passionate philanthropist, who has long put efforts behind creating a more just world, particularly for children.

Speaking with THR by phone on Tuesday — one day before onetime costars Charisma Carpenter and Michelle Trachtenberg shared allegations of improper conduct by Joss Whedon on the set of Buffy and Angel (Gellar showed support by posting, "I stand with all survivors of abuse.") — Gellar opened up about giving back, learning to ask for help and watching (and loving) the Punky Brewster reboot (starring husband Freddie Prinze Jr.) with their children.

Why did you decide to partner with Subaru on this initiative?

I joke that I work as an actor to support my philanthropy habit because I’m not rich enough to have my own foundation. I'm very fortunate in the situation that I'm in and I know that, and as hard as this year has been — it’s definitely been the hardest year I've really ever faced in my life — I know that I'm better off than so many. When you hear statistics like one in four children may not know where their next meal is coming from, it makes you realize just how high food insecurity is. Food is something that's really always been a passion of mine. Even before I had kids, I worked with so many great foundations in terms of getting meal programs into schools. Food is what sustains life and no child should ever have to worry about that.

I've also been aware for years of Subaru’s [philanthropic efforts] and their Share the Love campaign. Working with Subaru, you realize how ingrained it is into who they are as a company, so I was excited to partner with them. I always say, what you can do in your community and what you can do nationally a lot of times are very different but you can always find a way to make a big impact. Even if you have a dollar to donate, it can put 10 meals on the table. Imagine if everybody had a dollar to give and what kind of difference that could make? Subaru's showing that on a grand scale. I'd heard that early in the pandemic they had donated 50 million meals, and then I heard they realized that a year later, we are not only in the same situation but it’s gotten worse. What do we do? They said, “We’re going to donate 100 million meals.” Just the magnitude of that — it makes such a difference in so many people’s lives. There are so many people who have never gone to a food bank before this year and now it’s their only source. As a parent to feel like you're not providing for your child is so heartbreaking.

What have you learned about food equality since you've been running your own food company?

It's definitely been eye-opening. I think so much about the younger generation and helping them understand where food comes. We live in a society now where my kids are like, “Well, you just call Postmates or Uber Eats and the food comes.” It’s really helping them understand, “How do they get that food? Who farms the food? Who catches the fish? Where does it go and how does it get transported? What happens in a snowstorm when you can’t get out?” I tried to help them understand the chain. That’s something I didn’t even really understand because I grew up in New York City. There was food on every corner.

It’s really about understanding that while food should be a given right to each of us for just being alive, but it's not. Because of that, we should never be too proud to ask for help. It frustrates me that I can’t do even more. That’s why it was really nice when I was talking to the people at Subaru about setting up the program that I learned this is such a passion for them. It comes from such a genuine place, and you don't always see that in large companies.

What have you learned about yourself during the pandemic?

I've learned that I needed to slow down. I mean, it's probably something I've always known about myself, that I always needed to be busy doing this or doing that. If I wasn’t working on a set, what can I do for my charity work? What can I do for my kids? Where do we go? I’ve really come to an understanding that time is precious and I’ve worked at finding the positive in those moments. I’ll never get this family time back. I got an extra year, really, with both of my kids. My daughter is 11. She would normally be at playdates and sleepovers on the weekends. None of that's happened in a year, so we bonded as a family. That will last a lifetime for us.

I've learned a lot about my friendships. There are friendships I thought would sustain a situation like this and they haven't. Then there were friendships I had that maybe weren’t deep friendships but those have really grown leaps and bounds based on similar ideals and morals through this time. I’ve also learned how to ask for help in a way I never had before because I'm always so independent. There are days when I just needed help, whether it was a pick me up…I had a girlfriend drop a cheese plate on my doorstep yesterday. She just said, "You needed a pick me up. This is for you to have a nice afternoon.” It was this beautiful plate of cheese and olives and a brownie for no reason.

I love that. I wanted to ask some work questions. On your upcoming schedule you have a number of projects including Sometimes I Lie and Other People's Houses. Do you know which will go first?

We're in COVID still. Right now, the focus has mainly been on projects that were ready to go and projects that were filming. I picked an unfortunate time to be ready to go back to work, and I was really excited to go back to work and I still am. I just think instead of 2020, it's going to be more like second half of 2021, probably.

I saw your happy birthday Buffy Instagram post. I know you’ve probably being asked about her now more than ever with the anniversary approaching. A series was in the works that would continue Buffy’s legacy and storyline. Is it still happening?

I actually don't know. I don't have any part of it. I wasn't a producer on that show. I love her. I love her story, and if there's more story to be told, I think it’s interesting. Our demons were the metaphors for the horrors of high school and adolescence, and I think that there's definitely new horrors of adolescence. The idea of a chosen one would be certainly very interesting at this time. I do think it's tricky because we were already a reboot. So, I don't know. I actually don't know what's happening with it. I think it’s amazing that so many people are still so passionate about her and her story.

Nostalgia has driven a lot of people to rediscover so many pieces of content during the pandemic. What have you turned to?

I have a tendency to go back to books. That's definitely sort of my passion, to reread. And actually, my husband is on the new Punky Brewster and we just watched the first two episodes with our kids last night. It was so cute because it brought back so many memories. I remember going to school with two different colored shoes, the bandana and the whole thing. To hear my kids laughing and watch them be so into it, it was a crazy, full-circle moment. I know it’s my husband but I’m not the person to say, “Oh, it’s amazing" if it's not. I will be honest and say, “No, OK, that’s terrible.” But the show is so charming and especially now when people are looking for shows to watch as a family. There’s only so much that every single one of us can watch together. I can't wait for the rest of the episodes. My daughter was so mad they only sent the first two. She's like, “I need to know what happens!”

Interview edited for length and clarity.