Star power philanthropy
Patricia Arquette raises $100,000 for Haitian relief in whirlwind Houston visit
Actress Patricia Arquette is a woman on a mission — providing low-cost, sustainable housing for Haiti's homeless. The star of NBC's Medium extended that pursuit to Houston on Tuesday when she passed the hat at one of the city's swankiest abodes.
Anyone who might have been misled by the designer suit, the four-inch black suede heels and the star persona were quickly disuaded of any misconceptions when Arquette launched into her impassioned plea for the project. Her goal: Converting shipping containers into homes for Haitians who have been living in tents since the devastating earthquake in mid-January.
Over and over again, she told the story to new arrivals at the Museum District home of Carolyn and Jim Robertson — how her friend, a nurse and first-responder, returned from Haiti and implored Arquette to do something. "I've done a lot of philanthropic stuff secretly . . . I've done a lot of different things throughout my life. But, I don't know, it was like a light bulb just went on. Like, wait a minute, really, we have the capabilities. These things already exist, if we could just make it happen."
Arquette knew that goods were arriving in the Caribbean nation via shipping containers and that it cost $1,400 each to ship them back empty. "They're built to exceed any U.S. earthquake codes," she said. "Why ship them back empty when they need housing so badly. Why don't we get these people into something that's earthquake safe and that's dry as the rains are beginning?"
So she launched an Internet search on shipping containers and came across Houstonian Christopher Robertson, who, through his architectural firm Robertson Design, had won awards for his sustainable housing employing shipping containers. Houston was also of interest to Arquette because "it was such a good model climate-wise" with issues of heat and humidity, ventilation and insulation. More than just providing information, Robertson, who designed the contemporary masterpiece where his parents hosted the evening, wanted to join the effort.
"I've never had the chance to do something like this and I've always wanted to," he said. "And she was obviously very enthusiastic about it and I kind of like begged her to be part of the project. Please let me join."
Christopher Robertson left Houston earlier today to make his third visit to the project site — a soccer field outside of Port-au-Prince, where currently 3,000 people live in tents. A portion of that land was being graded yesterday awaiting the arrival of the prototype container house.
"We're working our butts off," Arquette said. "The rains have started and people's tents are sopping wet. And, you know, we're gonna really make it happen. We're so close to finishing this first little village, our shipping containers are starting to come in."
The actress is working on the project in what little spare time she has between shoots for Medium. She said that Monday night she was in LA shooting the series and would be back on the set after flying back to California today. No surprise then that her e-mail is stacked up with 1,200 entries and she responds most often in the wee morning hours.
The Houston fundraising effort went a long way toward helping make that happen. Before the doors opened to the 140 guests, seven couples had already donated $4,000 (the cost of converting a container to a home) and seven more had pledged the same. In addition, guests contributed various amounts to the program, several writing checks on the spot. The money was still coming in today with the total inching past $100,000. The funds are handled through Arquette's Give Love Foundation, which she created to serve the housing needs of Haitians and future projects that include sanitation, jobs programs and education.
The cause rang true not only with the city's philanthropic community but also with at least one leading restaurateur. Ibiza owner/chef Charles Clark was on hand overseeing the cocktail buffet which he donated for the evening. Assisting was well-known chef Olivier Ciesielski.