04/01/2017 11:41 GMT | Updated 04/01/2017 15:23 GMT

Kal Penn Donates $25,000 To UN Palestinian Refugees Agency After Winning Masterchef Celebrity Showdown

The refugee agency is a 'lifeline for so many families'.

Actor Kal Penn has donated $25,000 (£20,374) to a Palestinian refugee agency after winning celebrity Masterchef.

Penn, who has featured in hit shows Designated Survivor and House, said he was “thrilled” to help the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

The 39-year-old has a political career outside of acting. He served as co-chair for President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012 and is a former official in the White House Office of Public Engagement.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Actor Kal Penn donated $25,000 (£20,374) to a Palestinian refugee agency after winning celebrity Masterchef.

During Monday’s cooking showdown, Penn beat his rival Cheryl Hines to claim the $25,000 prize. 

He said: “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 UNRWA provides humanitarian support to Palestinian refugees across the Middle East. Its American branch is called UNRWA USA.

Penn sent a series of tweets to his followers urging them to watch the episode and explaining why he was supporting the refugee agency.

Abby Smardon, executive director of UNRWA USA, said the agency has received an influx of donations following the show.

She said supporters are thrilled about the awareness that Penn brought to the humanitarian cause.

“From our end, the most exciting part is that he was able to bring the issue of Palestinian refugees to prime time television - talking about Palestinian refugees in a positive way, which is something that doesn’t happen enough, particularly in US media,” Smardon told Middle East Eye.

In the last week, at the United Nations, and in Washington, DC, Secretary Kerry and Ambassador Power called on the international community to come together to  raise money and help ensure that compensation and other needs of Palestinian refugees are met.

A total of 1,300 Palestinians, including over 600 children, have been displaced by Israeli demolitions in 2016 alone, according to UNRWA USA.

“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 said.