Viola Davis helps No Kid Hungry: ‘Growing up with hunger was my biggest source of shame’

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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.”

[From People]

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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21 Responses to “Viola Davis helps No Kid Hungry: ‘Growing up with hunger was my biggest source of shame’”

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  1. Lightpurple says:

    Slight correction: Viola was born in SC but her family moved when she was a baby. She grew up and attended schools in Central Falls, RI. That acting school she’s talking about is a program in West Warwick, RI, where kids definitely would look down on someone from Central Falls.

    This is a wonderful program for her to support. Viola is the best to come out of Central Falls.

    • Celebitchy says:

      Ok thank you I fixed that part.

      • Lightpurple says:

        Thanks. Tiny, densely populated and poor Central Falls needs all the association with great women like Viola it can get.

    • Anony83 says:

      Would it be weird if I came on every post about Viola to say how proud Rhode Island is of her but also how people should stop talking sh*t about Central Falls because it gave us Viola freaking Davis?

      -Signed, “Born and raised in Providence (but *South* Providence) and have totally made jokes about Central Falls but actually it’s a pretty awesome little city and it gave us Viola Davis so it’s a winner in my heart forever.”

    • Anony83 says:

      Also, absolutely agree that Central Falls needs all the positive attention it can get. When I was young (and definitely when Viola was young), Rhode Island was segregated (much more than it is now) and hunger was a major problem, especially in black, Latinx, and immigrant communities (so basically the entire neighborhood I grew up in).

      The Rhode Island Food Bank is a great place to donate if you can and one of the few Food Pantries actually located in Central Falls (and serving the largely Latinx community that lives in Central Falls now) is Progreso Latino. I’m not sure if I can include links in comments but both organizations can always use support.

  2. marmalazed says:

    Thank you for including this about Viola and No Kid Hungry. Juxtaposing this with the Drew Barrymore post or any comments people make, really, about how they “eat clean” is so revealing about how even a middle class American is part of the global 1%. Using the word “clean” to describe how one eats, when it’s a privilege to have access to nutritional food, is an insult to all of the people experiencing food poverty that apparently eat “dirty” food. It only adds to the shame people in that situation may experience.

    • Darla says:

      I have to say, I totally agree. I am sickened reading this even though I knew it must be bad this summer, this is worse than I imagined. I’m not saying you shouldn’t “eat clean” (whatever that means) if you can afford to and that’s what you want. I myself am a vegetarian and I fully understand the privilege that is when we live in a world with a ton of .99 cent fast food menu items. But I don’t talk about it, and I just wish people would be less up their own asses, you know? Like shut up and talk about something that matters please. And do something.

    • Gigi La Moore says:

      I’m confused how it is an insult. Drew was answering a question about her own health habits. She wasn’t answering a question about hunger or food inequities. I’m a not so poor black women and I also try to eat clean in my daily life. I live in a large city and am fully aware of what has happened in the urban neighborhoods with grocery stores moving out. One neighborhood has local farmers come out with fresh produce that can be had for free or a very minimal fee depending on income. I’m going to take of my health to the best of my ability while being aware and working on issues that give those who don’t have a lot the same options and opportunities.

      • Darla says:

        It’s just not the year to talk about your clean diet and whatever else. It has a bit of hunger games vibe to it. Maybe magazines should stop asking these stupid empty shallow questions.

      • marmalazed says:

        @Gigi La Moore
        I don’t mean that talking about one’s own eating habits is an insult just that using the term “clean” to talk about the nutritional quality of food has an unspoken implication that other food is “unclean.” Calling people unclean has historically and is still frequently used as another rationale for justifying oppression. Some examples are the Dalit caste, or Untouchables; in China, Tibetans are thought to be dirty (rumored to only bathe once a month); the insult used in the US of calling someone a ‘dirty [insert immigrant group]‘. And Christianity is steeped with the notions of clean and unclean. So much of the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament, even, are about extending humanity to social outcasts, often called, “the unclean.” I’m just throwing this all out there as something to think about. I’m not outraged by the Drew Barrymore quotes or anyone else who describes their eating habits as ‘clean’. It just rubs me the wrong way and this is why.

  3. Becks1 says:

    I never really thought about hunger as an issue growing up. It’s something that I don’t think my parents did a good job about – talking to us about people less fortunate and the cycle of poverty and how many people in the US don’t have enough food. I try to be more open and upfront about issues like that with my kids because I want them to understand how lucky they are and to understand what they can do to help others.

    Anyway, in general once I had my kids it became something I thought about a LOT, and I think part of that is due to people like Viola Davis “normalizing” the discussion. (child hunger itself should never be normalized, but if its not talked about, you’re going to have a lot of people who don’t realize how widespread the issue is.) It’s become a bigger issue for me when I look at political candidates (what are their specific stances on programs like SNAP and WIC) and I’ve donated to local food banks more so in recent months. No Kid Hungry is a good organization to add to my “donate” list.

  4. Darla says:

    I joined their mailing list and signed up for a monthly donation. I am devastated reading these stats. Jesus Christ.

    • lucy2 says:

      I’ve donated to them in the past, but your comment made me sign up to be a monthly donor too.

      • Darla says:

        Really? That is so great to hear! I’ve been looking for a good organization for child hunger. I am a UNICEF member, but I wanted to add to that, and work against it here in the states. From looking at their website I feel like, once the pandemic is over, they have lots of things you can participate in too, to help.

  5. Noki says:

    I cant imagine going to bed hungry especially as a child,it must feel so hopeless. I am glad such programs exist. These are the type of situations when you have to ask how can the world can have people living in such excess and others starving to death.

  6. Paperclip says:

    Great post, Oya. Really enjoying your writing here at CB!

  7. Aang says:

    WIC and SNAP are the reason I and my younger brothers were fed as children. Without those programs there is no way my mother could have fed us. I never thought rationing food was not what everyone did until I moved in with my now husband. He’d say “why did you only put one piece of turkey on my sandwich?” Or “how can you just eat a pb&j for dinner, aren’t you still hungry?” I had never thought about it. It was just how I ate and a pb&j was better than not eating.

  8. Mich says:

    Whenever I have a little extra money, I give to my local foodbank. $120 buys 600 meals. Given my own grocery bills, I’m not sure how but that is what the foodbank says.

    I got into a debate with a friend a few years ago about government cuts being made to food banks. She said she was all for it because churches should handle feeding the poor. I told her the stats on food insecurity in her area and asked her if her church could handle that. She got very quiet.

  9. Gigi La Moore says:

    I’m sorry, Darla, but there would be no good time to talk about it. Before 2020, millions of children were still going to bed hungry in this country and let’s not even discuss hunger on a global scale. We will agree to disagree. Some people want a break from 24/7 doom and gloom so reading some silly fluff might be right up their alley.

    • Darla says:

      Yeah that’s true there never is a good time. I don’t read articles like that, they are not interesting to me. When I was younger they were though. I understand. They are just so meaningless to me now. It’s really revolting how so many people in this world, and an untold number of children and babies, go hungry, starve, and then there is this diet culture. Oh look how great she looks! She lost a lot of weight! How does she keep that body at 50!! Who cares? A lot of my feelings are my own guilt I’m sure. I have too much food and I always have.