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Viola Davis remembers digging in trash cans as a child hoping to find something to eat, and if she found nothing, distracting a clerk at the grocery store so she could steal food.

A two-time Academy Award nominee, Davis, 48, said she is just starting to feel strong enough to tell people she was hungry growing up.

In America, one in five children are suffering from hunger. That's almost 16 million children in the U.S. that live in households classified as food insecure, according to an annual report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Hunger also has an effect on kids' academic and health outcomes, according to a study from No Kid Hungry, a campaign to increase access to school breakfasts and improve testing scores.

Growing up in Central Falls, R.I., Davis said many times the social stigma associated with hunger keeps children from speaking up.

"You wake up thinking about food, you go to sleep thinking about food," Davis said. "We live in a country where you can have anything in your reach, and it's emotionally shameful to live in a land of plenty with nothing to eat."

Davis is now working with the Hunger Is campaign, to eradicate child hunger in the U.S. Part of the Safeway Foundation and Entertainment Industry Foundation, the campaign is raising funds through HungerIs.org and will kick off in Safeway grocery stores April 1.

The funds will go through a grant process and be allocated to breakfast programs in schools across the country, according to Larree Renda, chair of the Safeway Foundation.

That access to school meals is a vital component to addressing childhood hunger, says Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center, a non-profit working to increase public policies and private-public partnerships to end hunger in the U.S.

"There is no on – off switch for childhood hunger," Weill said. "Combating this takes strong federal nutrition programs that reach more children, extending school lunch and school breakfast, and access to summer food for when kids are out of school."

Davis said many times school lunch was one of the only meals she could count on. Living with five siblings, Davis said her father, now deceased, worked as race horse groomer, and struggled with alcohol. She said she watched as the "best man she knew" tried to keep his family afloat.

"The tension and stress that comes from living in poverty and trying to provide for your family, that shame and frustration weighs on a person," Davis said.

Weill said the economy hasn't been helping childhood hunger. Parents are sometimes working several jobs and skipping meals so their children can eat. He said many children may not go to bed hungry every night but meals are sporadic.

Davis said she gained the courage to chase her dreams from educational programs like Upward Bound, and people who went above and beyond the call of duty to help her.

"That little girl who grew up in dysfunction and poverty is still with me. That's why I need to help those who don't have a voice," Davis said.

Weill said he's encouraged by campaigns like Hunger Is, paired with the Department of Agriculture pushing for more summer food programs, and the USDA nationwide roll out of the Community Eligibility program in August that allows schools with high percentages of low income kids to serve breakfast and lunch to all students.

"Putting a face on hunger in in America is hugely important," Weill said. "It doesn't look the way it does in developing countries. It's invisible, it's the kid next door, our children's school mates."

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