Homelessness charity head 'humbled' by Alex Trebek's $100K donation: 'It really speaks to the kind of man that he is'

Suzy ByrneEditor, Yahoo Entertainment
Yahoo Celebrity

Alex Trebek’s personal health struggles haven’t halted his generosity to those less fortunate.

The Jeopardy! host, who has been fighting stage IV pancreatic cancer, has donated $100,000 to the Los Angeles-based Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission, a non-profit that works to “to prevent, reduce and eliminate poverty, hunger and homelessness.”

Ken Craft, the president and CEO of the charity, tells Yahoo Entertainment that Trebek had quietly and without fanfare been making donations to the group for several years. Amid Hope of the Valley’s latest expansion — over the last 10 years, it has opened 12 facilities, with three more opening in upcoming months, doubling its sleeping capacity — Craft reached out to top donors in a plea for financial help and one day his phone rang.

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“I was sitting at my desk in January and I get a phone call and the gentleman on the other line said, ‘Ken, this is Alex Trebek,’” Craft recalled. The game show host said he had been keeping tabs on what the organization was doing and requested a tour of the North Hollywood shelter, one of the new facilities.

Needless to say, Craft obliged, recalling how Trebek, 79, pulled up to the facility in his Ram truck wearing jeans, a sweatshirt, a ball cap and glasses. “I hardly recognized him,” he said. “I’m always used to seeing him in a suit” on Jeopardy!, which Trebek has hosted since 1984.

Alex Trebek, on the set of <em>Jeopardy!</em>, made a large donation to the Los Angeles-based non-profit Hope of the Valley, saying he liked what the group was doing to help combat homelessness. (Photo: Eric McCandless/ABC via Getty Images)
Alex Trebek, on the set of Jeopardy!, made a large donation to the Los Angeles-based non-profit Hope of the Valley, saying he liked what the group was doing to help combat homelessness. (Photo: Eric McCandless/ABC via Getty Images)

Craft showed him the facility, which will house 84 people, and all its amenities. And then they drove to a second facility that’s in the works — and toured that as well. The men parted after Trebek said he wasn’t feeling so well, around the time he was having trouble with his chemo medications, but said he would be in touch in a few weeks.

And several weeks later, Trebek called again, inquiring about the financials of the charity — from Craft’s salary ($105,000) to the overall budget. Craft offered to provide the TV personality with audited financials, which he did, and soon after Trebek invited him to his house. At the meeting, it was apparent to Craft that Trebek had done his research on the non-profit.

“He had printed out our financials,” Craft recalled, “and said, ‘If I’m reading this correctly, you make about 40 percent of your revenue from your thrift store. Is that correct?’ I said, ‘Yes it is.’ He said, ‘I like that. You’re earning money.’ He pointed out some other things. Then he said, ‘By the way, the reason why I asked you how much you make is because I supported another charity at one point and after the fact, I learned that the CEO was making $450,000. I just don’t think that’s a good use of non-profit finances.’ It was just great conversation, and he said, ‘I really like what you’re doing.’”

Trebek then presented Craft with an envelope — inside a check for $100,000 — and said he hoped it would help with the expansion. Craft said it “moved me emotionally” and “with tears in my eyes” he thanked him, including — after getting permission — with a hug.

According to Craft, Trebek said he became interested in the charity because while driving around L.A. he noticed an increased number of homeless and felt he needed to do something to contribute and help. Craft said he will remain “absolutely humbled and honored and eternally grateful” Trebek chose Hope of the Valley, which he founded a decade ago.

Trebek also invited Craft and his wife to a taping of Jeopardy!, taking time during a commercial break to tell the audience that while he didn’t “usually do this type of thing,” he wanted to call attention to “‘a couple here that I’m incredibly proud of,’” Craft recalled Trebek saying. “‘They’re doing great work in the fight against homelessness and I believe in them and I support them.’” They were then called up to the set for further praise — and a keepsake photo op.

“It just moved me because here he is — he has his own challenges, his own health issues that he’s working through — and yet instead of it being about Alex, it’s about others,” Craft said. “His focus is outward to the community and helping those who are suffering. I think it really speaks to the kind of man that he is. Not only is he generous, he’s compassionate, he’s caring but he’s also thoughtful. He wanted to do due diligence to make sure that we are a good organization and it’s a good investment of his finances.”

Craft said he got Trebek’s approval to make his generosity public — with the hope that “generosity breeds generosity.” And he also got the OK to name the largest gathering room at the new North Hollywood (NoHo) facility after Trebek and his wife, Jean.

Trebek plans to be there when the “Alex and Jean Trebek Multipurpose Room” opens, right now scheduled for June.

In a statement to Yahoo, Trebek says, “Homelessness is a serious problem. I wanted to do something, so I researched this charity, visited their facility, and personally saw the good work they are doing, and wanted to help. I hope others will do what they can as well.”

Last March, Trebek went public with his pancreatic cancer diagnosis. With a fighting spirit, he underwent chemo and it was deemed a success, but in September he had a setback and had to begin another round of chemo. In January, he shared that his doctors had to switch up one chemo drug he was on because it was “killing” him.

Trebek, who doesn’t plan to retire anytime soon, has also said amid his battle that “some days are better than others.” But having the support of so many people around the globe certainly helps.

“Some people would say, ‘That’s a bad deal that Alex has got,'” Trebek said last month. “But there are a lot of people out there who have been informed that they have cancer, they have heart problems, serious other diseases, they have Parkinson’s, whatever, you name it. But they have to deal with it, and that’s what I have to [do].” 

He went on to say he’s “humbled” by all the love and had “no idea that our show and myself had such an impact on the lives of so many people out there.”

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