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A 20-Year Friendship, a $50M Check, and a Housefly in Space

Eva Longoria and Lauren Sánchez

Close friends for two decades, Eva Longoria and Lauren Sánchez have engaged in countless phone conversations over the years — but this, as far as we know, is the first to be recorded. Longoria is one of this year’s recipients of the Bezos Courage & Civility Award, a massive charitable grant that Sánchez and her fiancé, Amazon executive chairman Jeff Bezos, have been giving to philanthropic activists for the past three years. The former Desperate Housewives star now has just 10 years to find a worthy charitable cause on which to spend that money. Fortunately, there’s one with her name written all over it: the Eva Longoria Foundation, a nonprofit providing Latino women and girls with educational programs, scholarships, mentorships, microloans, and other support.

THR eavesdropped on a recent chat between the actress and onetime reporter turned billionaire’s significant other, both formidable forces in the world of philanthropy. While Longoria runs her own nonprofit, Sánchez is vice chair of the Bezos Earth Fund, which has pledged to disburse $10 billion by 2030, among other charitable giving by the power couple.

Among the topics discussed: the fate of the planet, a book about a housefly in outer space, and the disposition of a certain check for $50 million.

Eva Longoria: I’ve known you for 20 years, so I feel like I know the answers to all these questions …

Lauren Sánchez: I would much rather be asking the questions. It’s the reporter in me.

Longoria: I’m the journalist today. We are switching roles. So, when did your passion for giving back start? I think the myth is people think that you just got involved philanthropically later in life, and I was like, ‘No, she’s always kind of been, you know, involved.’ But tell me, was there a light bulb moment in your life?

Sánchez: I see how people can see that, because the giving — monetary giving — is so much bigger now. Right. So I can see how, you know, people might think that, but my passion I think for giving back started extremely early. My nana would volunteer at a local hospital, and the night before we would make banana bread, which we would pass out to the nurses and doctors who’d been working these long shifts. That experience really planted a seed for me.

Then there was a visit to a children’s hospital when I was in my 30s that really solidified my commitment. It was with a group of doctors — they led a team called Facing Forward — and these doctors volunteered their time to help reconstruct kids with facial deformities for families that couldn’t afford it. Seeing those kids’ resilience and strength, despite all those challenges, that was it. It made me realize I wanted to dedicate more time and resources even in my 30s to making a difference.

Now, I load up my kids, and we go across the border for This Is About Humanity [an organization dedicated to supporting separated families at the U.S.-Mexico border]. I get super emotional when I talk about it because these kids have nothing. They’re living in tents. And my kids and I, we brought supplies, we brought makeup, we brought backpacks. My kids went back on their own afterward. So, it’s a cycle. It’s a good cycle.

Longoria: We both love This is About Humanity and they do amazing things. But I also think the biggest myth is you have to be rich and famous to give back, you have to be rich and famous to be a philanthropist. And if you look at all the people in that specific organization, it is operated by volunteers, by people that go down on a bus every weekend to cook food.

Sánchez: It shows that anyone has the power to give back. And it goes back to what you’re saying: ‘Oh, you didn’t give back before.’ Before this? No, I did. It just didn’t make news.

Longoria: What’s your approach to philanthropy? Because I remember, when I came into fame 20 years ago, I was getting a hundred invitations a week: Fight AIDS in Africa, save the dolphins, fight sex trafficking in Thailand. And I’m like, “Oh my God, yes, we’ve got to feed the dolphins and we’ve got to save the children!” But you can’t do everything. How do you decide what to focus on?

Sánchez: Jeff is extremely focused, as you can imagine. We really look for organizations that are not only addressing urgent issues but also have a clear, impactful plan for making a difference. That’s important. We’re prioritizing areas where we can help drive systematic change — it’s about making these thoughtful, informed decisions to ensure that the contributions will have the greatest impact. And that really kind of sums up our philosophy, I would say, in a nutshell.

Longoria: One of the things you guys do that gets the most attention is the Bezos Earth Fund. Obviously, it’s much needed. But can you elaborate on the specific areas you focus on?

Bezos Earth Fund's recent trip to the Amazon

Bezos Earth Fund’s Drs. Andrew Steer and Cristián Samper flanked Jeff Bezos and Sánchez during a recent trip to the Amazon.

Sánchez: The Bezos Earth Fund is a big one. It’s a $10 billion commitment. We are focusing on several key issues, like restoring and protecting nature, advancing climate justice, and supporting innovative climate solutions. Those are going to take time. Jeff always says, “We have to invent our way out of this.” And so, investing in these solutions, some may work, some will be a hit and some won’t. But that’s how we’re going to get out of this, by funding scientific research to develop new technologies like sustainable aviation fuels or what’s called green cement. These technologies are extremely important. We’ve put a lot of money behind sustainable protein. And the meat that they’re making now tastes so good. I know that’s hard to believe, but I’ve tasted it. And that’s going to, I think, make a big impact. But one thing that is, I think, more tangible, you might say, is the restoration of critical ecosystems. It’s incredibly rewarding to see that. We’re putting a lot of money behind restoration.

We also focus on education through the Bezos Academy that provides free preschool education to underserved communities. There’s Mary’s Place, which provides shelter and support for homeless families. And it really focuses on temporary homeless families, which a lot of times are mothers who may be in an abusive relationship and need to keep their kids and go. And one thing that Jeff did with Mary’s Place is he put the homeless shelter inside Amazon’s offices in Seattle which is incredible. I know. It’s crazy that people don’t really know about this that much. But so a lot of the employees when they volunteer their time, they’re just going like right downstairs to this community that really needs the help. It’s remarkable. And the impact that it has, it just contributes to a better world. So those are the some of the things that we’re super passionate about.

Sánchez with a baby in Mexico for This Is About Humanity

Sánchez connected with a baby in Mexico as part of her This Is About Humanity, an organization that supports separated families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Longoria: Do you feel like you guys are making a dent in these causes, because it can feel like you’re throwing a rock in the ocean, right?

Sánchez: I don’t know if you know this, but I have a book coming out. It’s called The Fly That Flew. It’s about this little rambunctious fly who doesn’t do very well in school but is extremely curious. And all she wants to be is an astronaut. That’s it. That’s all she’s focused on. And she accidentally gets stuck in a rocket capsule and goes up, and she sees the Earth. And she realizes how precious and beautiful it is. When she gets back down, her perspective is changed. She now wants to save the planet. So, to me, that’s kind of what my journey has been. I’ve always had this career. But now I’m taking a step back, and being part of the Bezos Earth Fund, I’m like, “Well, wait a second, what’s important is saving this planet.”

Longoria: You and I constantly have these conversations that inspire each other. Instead of sending each other memes, we send [reports] about the Latin community not being represented in TV and movies and the media …

Sánchez: I know, we send each other white papers. I’ll send you a study, and you’ll text back, “I already read it.” You and I both have this huge commitment to empowering underrepresented communities, especially Latinas.

Longoria: You and I are so proudly Latina. But we’re also proudly American. And we are super assimilated. But we grew up with this hyphen, living in two worlds. And I think many people relate to that, especially Latinos in the United States.

Sánchez: Your words at the Elle Women in Hollywood Event last year about lifting other women up — I wrote down what you said so I would get it right. You said, “You know who hires women? Other women.” Then you said to all the women in positions of power in the room, “Please hire her.” That moment, Eva, that was one of the reasons I knew you would be perfect for the Courage and Civility Award. Because it’s your dedication to raising and amplifying not just Latina voices [but also] women is exactly what we needed. I mean, you really embody the spirit of courage and civility.

Longoria: I’m so grateful for your friendship and sisterhood, but also, of course, for this grant, because we get to scale up what we’ve been doing for the past 12 years. I fully believe that women are the key to unlocking not only our country’s potential, but the world’s potential.

Sánchez: I’m so excited to see what you’re going to do with this $50 million.

A version of this story first appeared in the July 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter, Particle News