Grey’s Anatomy Star Ellen Pompeo on Baby2Baby, the Pandemic and Power of Empathy

Ellen Pompeo, “Grey’s Anatomy” star, actress and producer, spent her Friday afternoon at a charitable Halloween drive-thru with Baby2Baby — the Los Angeles-based organization that provides children living in poverty with basic needs.

“It’s been devastating to watch,” Pompeo said of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. “It’s really been interesting to see what a lack of empathy there is out there, considering it’s one of the most challenging times we’ve faced as a planet…Why is a lack of empathy something to be celebrated? Why does a lack of empathy make you tough? Caring and having empathy is a sign of strength, not a weakness.”

With over 8 million Instagram followers, Pompeo has been using her platform to highlight social causes, movements — health equity and Black Lives Matter — and the significance of wearing a face mask during the health crisis.

“I’m super fortunate,” she went on, when asked how she’s been adapting to the year. “I can’t complain at all about my life. But I think about younger kids. My 6-year-old couldn’t start kindergarten properly this year. The kids who graduated high school couldn’t start college this year. The theater actors in New York City, the restaurant workers, the health-care workers, so many people have been really affected by this.”

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With Baby2Baby, Pompeo has been able to see a local impact of giving back.

“They’re such hard workers,” she said of Baby2Baby chief executive officers Kelly Sawyer Patricof and Norah Weinstein. “They’re really smart women and know what they’re doing. They’re really good at it. You see at their events, how successful they are, how many people turn out. You can actually see the work being put to use.”

Every year, Baby2Baby raises millions of dollars at an annual gala in L.A. Last year, the nonprofit collected $4.7 million at the event, bringing out the likes of Katy Perry, Kelly Rowland, the late Kobe Bryant with wife Vanessa, Jennifer Garner, Kate Hudson, Jessica Alba, Gwyneth Paltrow, Chrissy Teigen and her husband John Legend. This year the party was canceled due to the pandemic, but that hasn’t stopped Patricof and Weinstein from hosting smaller charitable events throughout the year.

“They never stop raising money, asking for money, volunteers,” continued Pompeo of the women. “It’s really impressive. I’ve seen this organization grow and grow. Their events are consistent. Their giving is consistent, and their work is consistent.”

Pompeo, along with other volunteers, handed out school supplies and backpacks along with costumes and candy for Halloween on Friday, thanks to Paul Mitchell — a lead sponsor for the organization for the last five years.

“They gave a lot of money, over $300,000, to buy all of the supplies,” Pompeo said of the professional hair-care company. “Without huge donations like that, these events never go on.”

“It’s awkward to go through the logistics of everything, but once they pull up, all of that goes away,” said Michaeline DeJoria, vice chairman of John Paul Mitchell Systems and an executive board member of Baby2Baby, of the drive-thru concept. “You just look into each other’s eyes, and you’re handing them something, and they’re so grateful. Whether you’re in masks, separated by cars, whatever the protocol is, that moment just doesn’t change. All the stuff around it looks different, but the vibe was still the same. It’s still as heartwarming and humbling as ever.”

The mission this year has been accelerated to meet the needs of kids and families, she continued.

“What’s so doubly sad about COVID-19 hitting is the essential needs that were there were already so overwhelming, and now to compound that onto COVID-19, a lot of the parents were barely making by, so many have lost jobs or were furloughed,” said DeJoria. “Early on, we had to pivot toward specific COVID-19 needs like sanitizer. That was really major. And one of the things that was really heartbreaking was a lot of parents, because of loss of income, jobs, access to these basic needs, a lot of them have resorted to making homemade diapers out of newspapers and towels or watering down baby formula. So, those essential needs of food and diapers have really — and of course the sanitizers and self-care items like hair care and all that, which we were happy to donate along with the sanitizer — the need for that just ramped up so much that the focus really pivoted toward outputting more of those items, especially early on.”

Baby2Baby is currently unable to accept physical donations due to the pandemic, but the best way to get involved is monetary donations at baby2baby.org, said Pompeo.

“No matter how small [the amount],” she said, “they’re always grateful, and they put it to good use.”

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