Happy Thanksgiving and positive celebrity influences

I’ve been watching lots of The Ellen Degeneres Show and aside from the fact that it’s a very funny, very fun, and very entertaining show, I have to give props to Ellen for the great charitable work she does through it. Thanksgiving week and the holiday season in general is usually the time for special giveaways and the like and Ellen is no exception. She has been sponsoring the Ellen Thanks-for-Giving Food Drive, encouraging people to give funds, food, and time to America’s Second Harvest, the nation’s food bank network. She directs people to the Web site to give to the food assistance group and she encourages people coming to see the show to bring bags of food– her recent shows have included clips of audience members bringing bags and bags of food and companies like M&Ms and Starbucks have also been contributing large cash donations through the show as well. The key to this giving campaign though, I think, is that she only asks people to bring one food item or give one dollar, recognizing the influence she has through her television show and that by asking each of her viewers to give a little bit, she can put together huge charitable gifts. On top of this giving campaign, her Thanksgiving show audience was filled with the family members of soldiers serving overseas and more important than the free cruises she gave to every single audience member and the care packages and gifts she sent to the soldiers, she set up the opportunity for the soldiers to send video messages to their loved ones.

But the holiday season isn’t the only time Ellen has been seen giving to those who need and deserve it. As part of her RSVP Ellen program, when she wasn’t able to be the birth coach for a pregnant mother, she instead sent lots of presents, including a $2000 gift certificate to Drugstore.com, and invited the couple to an all-expenses paid trip to see the show and vacation in the area. On top of regular interviews with celebrity guests and musical performances, the show is filled with giveaways like this, small and large, and regular contributions to various charitable organizations.

And the combination of how fun the show is in general and the giving spirit is what makes this show great and what makes me truly respect and love Ellen. She doesn’t have to do many of the charitable things she does on the show, but it seems to me that she recognizes the influence she has as a celebrity, a public figure, and a talk show host, and uses it to support important causes. It’s this balance between celebrity and charity that I respect and admire. I don’t begrudge the large salaries of actors and actresses, but I think that anybody who has something should try to give back to those who do not, whether it’s a few dollars or millions of dollars. If you can, I believe you should try to give as much to charitable causes as you can. I believe you can balance enjoying your money and living a comfortable life with giving to important causes in a significant way. And for celebrities, I truly respect those who take it one step further and use their influence to encourage charitable work. For example, here’s a cool thing– Michael Rosenbaum who plays Smallville‘s Lex Luthor, instead of accepting birthday gifts from his fans, tells fans to send money to Ronald McDonald House Charities on his behalf. The point is that he doesn’t really need the birthday gifts from thousands of fans, but if they really want to send them, he can at least turn that into something charitable. I think it was a great idea and one that everyone, celebrity or not, should consider embracing.

In the end, acts like these reflect a generosity of spirit that makes me not only enjoy the work of these celebrities, but respect them as people as well. And it is a lesson for all people who are public figures on whatever scale– that being a role model isn’t necessarily about living a perfect life or keeping the world from seeing anything possibly negative in your life, but more about setting an example in small ways and instead of putting the spotlight on the good things you might do, putting the spotlight on the good things others can do.