Though Heidi Klum once again donned a designer dress and rocked an awards gala on Saturday night, the evening was really about what she’s done pulling up her sleeves and getting dirty – throwing herself into charity work for the American Red Cross.
At a ceremony held at the French Embassy in Washington, D.C., the America’s Got Talent judge (wearing a gold and white Marchesa mini dress) received the Crystal Cross Award for her contributions and volunteer efforts after Superstorm Sandy. Klum, 40, has worked with the American Red Cross for the past decade.
“I try to give back,” Klum tells PEOPLE. “After Sandy, we got a gigantic truck and we loaded it with blankets, diapers, kids’ clothes and toys because it was right around the holiday season and we went to Long Island. So many people had lost everything, and everything was wet and it was a big mes. The Red Cross has such an infrastructure to help you, you need all these hands.”
Klum, whose Truly Scrumptious line of baby and toddler clothing and nursery décor is featured at Babies R Us, got the company involved to help get supplies to families when they needed it most.
“I try to get a lot of goodies from the people I work with,” Klum explains. “I realize how fortunate I am. When you go out into these desperate situations, when you sit at a hospital with sick children of course it changes you. We are used to seeing horrifying catastrophes on television, but when you are about to go and be there and see the sadness on people’s faces and the things they just lost, it makes a huge difference.”
Despite hectic schedules – she is a working mom to kids Leni, 10, Henry, 8, Johan, 7, and Lou, 4 – Klum says that everyone can do something to help people around them.
“I think everyone can do something, even if it is in your own community,” she says. “You can visit children in the hospital or bring gifts to them, cook a meal for someone who is ill and can’t. We are all global citizens and whatever we can do, if it is small or something bigger, it’s important.”
Having kindness and compassion is high on the list of things that Klum is looking for in herself and her friends – including guy pal Vito Schnabel, 27, who has been linked to Klum since the spring.
When asked what makes her relationship with Schnabel work, Klum says, “I look at people with my heart. I look for their kindness and humor and compassion.”