Wednesday night’s Save the Children Illumination Gala at the Plaza Hotel was all about family.
The second-annual event, which helps support Save the Children’s objectives to work to eliminate preventable childhood deaths worldwide and ensure every U.S. child has access to high-quality early childhood education, was hosted by Jennifer Garner, who was honored at last year’s gala and brought her daughter, Violet, to that event.
This year, her husband, Ben Affleck, was honored along with others who’ve done exemplary work to help children around the world.
On the red carpet, Garner told Hollywood Insight that having kids has strengthened her commitment to the charity — which serves impoverished, marginalized children around the world – and helped her relate to the women and caretakers she visits.
“There’s nothing that levels the playing field like being a mom and the conversations are as real with those women as they would be with my friends in the Palisades,” Garner said. “Those women love their kids as much as I love mine, and they should have every possible advantage and lack of disadvantage that I have.”
During his speech, Affleck praised Garner for her dedication to Save the Children, indicating that she goes beyond the philanthropic efforts undertaken by most stars.
“Look, I know a lot of celebrities. I’ve seen a lot of celebrities do good work, philanthropic work, show up, take a picture, raise a little money, go to a hospital, shake a kid’s hand, get a picture taken, you know, do their part, albeit a minimal one. My wife is no f—ing joke,” Affleck said. “She really cares about these issues, deeply and personally with the fervent strength that she cares about raising our children and the books, endless books that she hands me (that I’m going to get to) about early childhood education.”
He went on to praise her concern for children in the U.S. who aren’t receiving proper education.
“We are too wealthy a country and too good of a country to allow so many of our children to receive so poor of an education. She feels for those children and she feels for us, if we’re to see millions of Americans grow up without an education, completely ignorant, hostile, jaded, brains half-formed. This is a recipe for disaster for our country,” Affleck said. “I admire what you do and if I may say so, you’ll have to forgive me, Save the Children is damn lucky to have you!”
The actor was humble and self-deprecating when accepting the Global Child Advocate Award for his work with the Eastern Congo Initiative, joking that he wasn’t supposed to be there.
“There’s clearly been a terrible mistake,” he said. “First of all, I have to assume somebody dropped out at the last minute.”
He then praised the people on the ground in the Congo whom he called “real heroes.”
“What everyday Congolese people do in their lives and with their children, to me, is nothing short of heroic. And I know about heroic,” The Batman v. Superman star said. “Every single person who works for the Congo deserves to wear that cape a lot more than I do…I humbly accept this honor on behalf of the Congolese people.”
Affleck also spoke passionately about the need to help the area and the children who live there.
“This is an area that merits our attention, and if you travel there, I assure you, you will not find people who are helpless, you will not find people who are asking for handouts,” he said. “You will find people who are working their ass off to make their community better and their lives better and their families better and just need some small measure of assistance, a good deal less, incidentally, then every single one of us receives in the United States of America.”
He added: “These children are deeply vulnerable and they need and they deserve our help.”
Affleck and Garner weren’t the only members of their family in attendance that night, with Garner’s parents also joining them for dinner, Save the Children CEO Carolyn Miles said.
Other honorees included former British prime minister Tony Blair, Austin Hearst, T.J. Maxx, Bangladesh paramedic Aziza Begum and the organization’s Long Island and Greenwich Leadership Councils.
Trisha Yearwood delivered a brief performance at the top of the show, before racing off to North Carolina, where her husband Garth Brooks had booked a concert despite her insistence to keep that night open.
Dakota Fanning, who recently started working with Save the Children, was also on hand to present the CEO of T.J. Maxx’s parent company TJX, Ernie Herrman, with the National Responsibility Award. Fanning told Hollywood Insight on the red carpet that she traveled to Kentucky recently to see some of Save the Children’s programs.
“I think any charity that’s sort of about the next generation and making them better is very important and Save the Children is all about that,” she said.
Save the Children’s animal ambassador Lassie also walked the red carpet and gave reporters a few barking soundbites.
In accepting his award toward the end of the gala, Blair said, “I’ve addressed conferences, gala dinners, assemblies, Parliaments, United Nations… but I’ve never actually done a reception with a dog before. And I feel like I’m finally finding my level.”
In addition to $100,000 raised from donations at the end of the gala, Save the Children is also set to benefit from a new $10 million global partnership with Johnson & Johnson, announced Wednesday night.