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Feeding America: Meet Hollywood’s Favorite Charity

Feeding America: Meet Hollywood’s Favorite Charity

There is never a scarcity of scarcities. Never a shortage of shortages. Despite all the tireless work the organizations represented on these pages do to alleviate inequities in so many areas — in education, health care, housing, diversity — there will always be needs that remain unfilled.

Still, there is one want that arguably trumps all others: hunger. Without enough to eat, all the arts programs and youth athletic leagues in the world aren’t going to make much of a meaningful difference. Food, of course, is an essential human need.

“It’s fundamental,” says Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of Feeding America, THR‘s 2024 Philanthropic Organization of the Year. “It cuts across every human main divide. Even right now, with this hyper-political climate that we’re in, in the middle of a presidential race, celebrities can know that when they choose this, that they will find friends, partners, allies across the political spectrum. It’s one of the places — and it feels like it’s getting more and more rare to find those places — where we can all come and focus on our humanity.”

Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of Feeding America since 2018.

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Feeding America has been fighting hunger since the 1960s, and today it’s part of a nationwide network of more than 200 food banks and 60,000 meal programs that last year distributed 5.3 billion meals through such programs as mobile pantries and after-school Kids Cafes, while also focusing on disaster response and hunger research. The organization also puts an emphasis on providing access to a nutritious mix of food, working directly with farmers and producers to get healthier food into its pipeline. No surprise it’s become one of Hollywood’s favorite charities, with 100-plus stars participating in the nonprofit’s various programs.

Scarlett Johansson, for one, is a major supporter, telling THR that she considers Feeding America’s mission to end hunger a “deeply personal” campaign.

“Growing up, my family relied on public assistance and free school lunch programs, and I witnessed firsthand how this support can offer immense relief to families struggling to make ends meet,” she says. “It helped me understand from a young age that there is no shame in accepting assistance, only power.”

Other supporters include Andy Cohen, Emma Roberts, Rachael Ray, Karen Pittman, Chrissy Teigen, Justin Long, Phoebe Robinson and Julie Bowen (who’ll be presenting Babineaux-Fontenot with THR Philanthropy of the Year honors at the Social Impact Summit on July 11). Liev Schreiber, who has worked with Feeding America for nearly a decade, says it’s been an eye-opening experience. “It’s been incredible to volunteer directly in communities, helping to serve meals and speak face-to-face with people about their experiences,” he says. “There is often a misconception of what food insecurity looks like, but it exists in 100 percent of U.S. counties and is likely impacting people close to you.”

Having this much buy-in from Hollywood has obviously been enormously helpful in building Feeding America’s public profile, but Babineaux-Fontenot insists the organization’s A-list volunteers aren’t treated any differently than anybody else at the food bank. “We might ooh and ahh when they walk in the door,” she says, “but once they get on the line, it’s like, ‘Hey, Julie Bowen, chop, chop.’ “

Liev Schreiber doled out produce at Feeding America’s Hunger Action Day event at Food Bank for New York City’s Harlem Community Kitchen on Sept. 15.

Slaven Vlasic/Getty Image

In 2024, with inflation keeping food prices too high for many families, Feeding America is seeing an alarming uptick in food insecurity. Counterintuitively, the situation now is worse than it was amid the pandemic, since that crisis triggered an unprecedented gusher of government aid. “During 2020, people will be shocked to learn that we had one of the lowest rates of food insecurity that we’ve ever had, but it’s because we were doing the stuff that works,” Babineaux-Fontenot says. “In 2021, some of those COVID-era supports started going away; by 2022, most of them were gone. The lines grew and grew and grew. Supports go away, inflation goes up, lines grow.”

Indeed, by 2022, the number of people living in food-insecure households in the U.S. jumped to 44 million, including 13 million children, according to a report released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It marked an increase of 31 percent for all individuals and 44 percent for children from 2021, when government assistance programs were still in full swing. “The things we were doing in 2020 and 2021, those things really helped,” Babineaux-Fontenot says. “We could do more of those things and could change the face of hunger in this country.”

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For Hollywood, 2023 was a year when food insecurity struck home, with thousands of writers and actors out of work due to the double strikes, which also created a ripple effect on other parts of the workforce. L.A. Regional Food Bank saw a 9 percent spike in requests for help, which appeared to be fueled by out-of-work members of the entertainment industry.

“I’d love to see strong activation all across the celebrity community around destigmatizing the status of not having access to resources,” Babineaux-Fontenot says. “The pain of some of them having to access pantries and food banks during the strike, I hope that translates into a passion around making sure that stigma goes away.”

She adds: “We understand that hunger does not come in a vacuum, that it does not exist by itself — it’s a symptom of poverty. For us to be serious about hunger, we have to be aware of what are the things that contribute to a person not having the food that they need to thrive? And what role can we play in ensuring that the whole ecosystem comes together in a good way for people? So that’s what we’re working on.”

Grant Hall, Mason Gooding, Taran Killam, Tate Donovan, Adina Porter, Ronen Rubinstein, Babineaux-Fontenot, Johanna Fuentes, Lorenza Izzo, Karen Pittman, Katy O’Brian, Kenny Johnson and Angelica Johnson at Los Angeles Regional Food Bank on April 5.

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This story first appeared in the July 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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