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Kal Penn Wins 'MasterChef,' Donates $25,000 to Palestinian Refugees

Actor and former White House staffer Kal Penn won $25,000 for Palestinian refugees on a celebrity episode of 'MasterChef.'
Image: Kalpen Suresh Modi
Kalpen Suresh Modi, then Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, in the East Room of the White House on Oct. 14, 2009.Pablo Martinez Monsivais / OTKPM104

Actor and former White House staffer Kal Penn won $25,000 for Palestinian refugees with beer-braised fish tacos when he beat "Curb Your Enthusiasm" actress Cheryl Hines to win "MasterChef Celebrity Showdown" on Monday.

“Only in America can a guy make tacos on FOX TV, almost lose an eye, and win $25,000 to support refugees,” Penn wrote in a note posted to Twitter. “We are so fortunate as Americans to live in a country as prosperous as ours.”

"MasterChef Celebrity Showdown" invites celebrities to cook on the show for the opportunity to win donations that go to their chosen non-profit organizations. Penn picked the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

"[Penn's] win will help us provide life-changing services to many Palestinian refugee families in need," Abby Smardon, executive director of UNRWA USA, told NBC News. "But perhaps the most critical impact of his appearance on Fox is that Kal was able to bring the issue of Palestinian refugees to primetime U.S. television — sharing his concern for a people who have been struggling for decades to survive and thrive."

Penn, who is best known for his role as Kumar Patel in the "Harold & Kumar" movies, worked for the Obama administration as an associate director for the White House Office of Public Engagement between 2009 and 2011. He said on Twitter that he chose UNRWA because it is an "organization that directly helps those facing impossible hardships, especially refugees."

"Much of our own media attention is focused away from the human stories of children and families who are suffering due to displacement against the rule of international law, terrorism, and violence from so many sides," Penn said. "So having the chance to cook to benefit refugee families on MasterChef seemed like the right thing to do."

Penn also pointed to recent remarks made by U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power and Secretary of State John Kerry calling upon the international community to help Palestinian refugees and encouraged his followers on social media to do so, saying he would try to send postcards to those who did.

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