Kal Penn Wins ‘MasterChef Celebrity Showdown,’ Prize Money to Support Palestinian Refugees through the UN

03 January 2017

In a tight culinary competition last night, actor and public servant Kal Penn, of ABC’s Designated Survivor, took on and beat Son of Zorn’s Cheryl Hines to win FOX’s MasterChef Celebrity Showdown.

Penn exclaimed, "Only in America can a guy make tacos on FOX TV, almost lose an eye, and win $25,000 to support Palestinian refugees. I'm thrilled to be helping UNRWA do its critical work in Gaza and Syria. They're a lifeline for so many families that have been struggling for decades to meet their basic needs and achieve their rights.”

The highly-rated two-hour special put celebrity competitors to the test in the kitchen, and featured the first-ever battle royale between MasterChef’s own Gordon Ramsay and Christina Tosi, chef, founder, and owner of Momofuku Milk Bar. In each face-off, more than bragging rights were at stake – the winners earned prize money for the charities of their choice. Penn’s charity of choice, UNRWA USA, is an independent nonprofit organization which provides humanitarian support to Palestinian refugees across the Middle East through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.

“We are so fortunate as Americans to live in a country as prosperous as ours. Especially during the Christmas, Hannukah, and Kwanzaa holidays, and in hopes that the New Year will bring peace and prosperity around the world, I thought it was important to choose an organization that directly helps those facing impossible hardships, especially refugees. Much of our own media attention is focused away from the human stories of children and families who are suffering due to displacement against the rule of international law, terrorism, and violence from so many sides. So having the chance to cook for UNRWA USA on MasterChef seemed like the right thing to do.

“As all Americans of various faiths and backgrounds return to work after the holidays this week, I hope you’ll join me in celebrating and promoting peace and love for all through a donation to UNRWA USA. A donation of $32 can provide a blanket, mattress, and winter jacket to Palestine refugees in Syria this winter.”
In the last week, at the United Nations, and in Washington, DC, Secretary Kerry and Ambassador Power called on the international community, including Americans, to come together to  raise money and help ensure that compensation and other needs of Palestinian refugees are met.

As Secretary Kerry outlined, 1,300 Palestinians, including over 600 children, have been displaced by Israeli demolitions in 2016 alone.

“Secretary Kerry recently discussed in his speech that Gaza is home to one of the world’s densest concentrations of people enduring extreme hardships with few opportunities,” said Penn, “1.3 million people out of Gaza’s population of 2 million are in need of daily assistance – including food and shelter. I’m honored to have the chance to cook on behalf of UNRWA USA.”

Penn’s breakthrough film role came in the comedy Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004). He also spent several seasons on House before taking a sabbatical from acting to work for President Obama’s administration.

UNRWA USA

UNRWA USA supports the humanitarian work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). Established in 1949, UNRWA provides education, healthcare, emergency protection, and other human development programs to over 5 million Palestine refugees across the Middle East, and is the only organization dedicated to providing critical assistance to Palestine refugees in Syria. Donations made to UNRWA USA by American citizens are tax deductible.

Background Information

UNRWA is confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of registered Palestine refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs. As a result, the UNRWA programme budget, which supports the delivery of core essential services, operates with a large shortfall. UNRWA encourages all Member States to work collectively to exert all possible efforts to fully fund the Agency’s programme budget. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large shortfalls, are funded through separate funding portals.

UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and mandated to provide assistance and protection to some 5.4 million Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA across its five fields of operation. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip achieve their full human development potential, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. UNRWA services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, protection and microfinance. 

For more information, please contact:

Christopher Gunness
Spokesperson, Director of Advocacy & Strategic Communications
Mobile: 
+972 (0)54 240 2659
Office: 
+972 (0)2 589 0267
Sami Mshasha
Chief of Communications, Arabic Language Spokesperson
Mobile: 
+972 (0)54 216 8295
Office: 
+972 (0)258 90724
UNRWA launched the #DignityIsPriceless campaign in Gaza on 22 January 2018. © 2018 UNRWA Photo Rushdi Al Saraj
Join the #DignityIsPriceless campaign to stand up #ForPalestineRefugees