Hollywood group hopes to bring a lot to the table

Like everybody else these days, politically engaged Hollywood -- and particularly its younger activists -- is in a back-to-basics mood.

That's why David Arquette called together a group of actors, musicians, artists, even some athletes, recently at the Beverly Hills home of his manager, Eric Kranzler, to discuss new ways of taking on one of the oldest of causes: feeding the hungry.

Tens of millions of Americans don't know where their next meal is coming from, Arquette told the group that included Jennifer Aniston, Gwen Stefani, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Arquette's wife, Courteney Cox, and others.

Arquette said he was contacted over the summer by Feeding America, an umbrella organization that distributes food to nearly 200 charities nationwide, including the Los Angeles Food Bank. He has since become the chairman of the group's celebrity outreach effort.

The "Scream" actor said he was taken aback by the severity of the situation: Hunger has gone from an international cause -- with television images of starving babies in Ethiopia or Somalia -- to a domestic concern.

Hard times have brought the most elemental of human needs back to the United States as food banks and community pantries across the country report record demands for their services even as traditional donations from foundations and food companies fall in tandem with the stock market.

Meanwhile, as the unemployment rate creeps toward double digits and budget-strapped states cut aid to needy families, the need for donations is rising.

Gone are the days when Americans could comfortably assume that the only national nutrition problem was obesity. That's what Arquette and his co-host of the event, Motion Picture Assn. of America head Dan Glickman, had in mind when they pulled together Hollywood activists with a record of social commitment.

"Did you see the statistics today?" Glickman asked the group of about 150 actors, musicians and executives who gathered on the Friday before the Golden Globes. "There's 7.2% unemployment in this country, the largest growth since 1948. And that number probably understates it.

"The problem is extraordinarily serious. In this country, the richest in the world, people are going hungry. It's a disgrace that millions of Americans are hanging by a thread. And the number is increasing very rapidly."

As Glickman and Arquette spoke, the crowd stood silent. Stefani, dressed in black, stood next to her husband, musician Gavin Rossdale. Nearby was Sheryl Crow, who has offered to write a song for Feeding America. Nick Lachey draped his arm around girlfriend Vanessa Minnillo. Julia Louis- Dreyfus was there with her husband, Brad Hall.

Amanda Peet came by with husband David Benioff. Also there: Josh Groban, Hill Harper, Ben Harper, Kevin Connolly, Lukas Haas, Alison Sweeney, Michael Chiklis, "Heroes" actor Jimmy Jean-Louis and athletes Bernard Barrian and Barry Zito.

NBC Universal President Ron Meyer (with daughter Jennifer Meyer and son-in-law Maguire) worked his way through the crowd.

To cap the evening, artist Shepard Fairey, who became internationally known for designing the red, white and blue Obama "street art" painting, unveiled a new print he made especially for Feeding America (it features a young girl eating from a soup bowl).

Amid the serious tone of the evening, Fairey sought to add levity. "It's nice to see all the artists here," he said. "I'm the real kind of artist who really starves. It would have been helpful if I had known about Feeding America 12 or 13 years ago."

Fairey said he has known Arquette for several years and was happy to help when he got the call from him recently to get involved. "I was glad to lend my skill set."

Arquette and Glickman said they hoped others would do the same.

"A lot of people in this room are extremely fortunate," Glickman said. "We have a special opportunity to help those in desperate need, especially children and families."


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