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To say that I am a fan of Viola Davis is a understatement. She has captivated me for years. I love her as Annalise Keaton in How to Get Away With Murder. Her energy just pulls you in. Viola is gifted at portraying deep pain and suffering on screen. When I read that she grew up impoverished I started to understand what she must be drawing on to give such compelling performances. She’s been open about the shame she felt as child growing up in Rhode Island and often going hungry.
In this week’s People, Viola talks about her role as a spokesperson for No Kid Hungry. This cause is personal to her and she’s trying to bring awareness to their annual report, The Longest Summer: Childhood Hunger In The Wake of Coronavirus.
“This was an issue before COVID,” [Viola Davis] tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “It’s just that stakes are much higher now because people have been out of work and challenged in terms of their finances, their house, everything. Our scourge is childhood hunger. Food banks that were designated to serve maybe 200 families are now serving 600.”
The program’s 2020 report, The Longest Summer: Childhood Hunger In The Wake of Coronavirus, found that half of American families are living with hunger and the numbers are worse among Black and Latinx people. “When all your money goes towards your rent, you don’t have anything leftover or you never had it to begin with,” Davis says. “It’s not just the scourge of kids who are growing up in poverty, it’s also the working poor. We have a problem.”
Davis’ own experiences with hunger growing up have instilled a deep need to help others and promote awareness as well.
“I got a scholarship when I was really young to an acting school and I never had any money for food,” Davis recalls. “Every once in a while, I would bring maybe a bologna sandwich with mayonnaise and I would be so happy. The kids at that school were at the very, very least upper middle class and I remember eating the sandwich and one of the kids going, ‘Oh, that is so disgusting.’ There needs to be empathy and education in understanding the struggles of many of your fellow Americans especially now.”
As for how people can help, Davis suggests to “give of your time and money, but the big thing here is to vote,” she says. “SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] and WIC vouchers are the healing elixir for families that are food-poor. And these programs are being challenged.”
The annual report also uncovered that more than 50% of parents are now skipping meals for themselves or limiting food for people in the family so their kids can eat while almost 40% are not paying bills as often to make sure there is food on the table. “Growing up with hunger was my biggest source of shame,” Davis admits. “It affected my sense of value, my sense of worth. I just felt like there was no one else who had that issue. And the fact that I did, made me weak, even though I had no control over it.”
This study is extremely troubling. It’s a travesty that 50% of parents are skipping meals or rationing food so that their children can eat. Plus 40% are not paying bills or paying them sporadically so that they can feed their families.
I love how Viola is taking something that once was a source of shame for her to help others. It’s also beautiful that Viola wants to raise her daughter, Genesis, 10, to express herself, to accept herself, and to never have the shame Viola grew up with.
I will make sure to vote this fall and give as much as I can afford to organizations that feed children. I too know what it is like to go to bed hungry, both as a child and as an adult. I don’t want to ever see a family struggle to put food on the table.
For more information on No Kid Hungry please visit their website.
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