Growing up in New York City, the actor and her three siblings, including twin brother Hunter, saw their parents struggle to put food on the table for their large family. "We were a single-income family with four kids living in New York City," she recalls. "My parents tried not to make a big deal of it, but I know it was a struggle for them."
At P.S. 41 in Greenwich Village, Scarlett and her sister and brothers were among the children receiving government-subsidized lunches every day. Even as she was auditioning for film roles, making her debut in the fantasy comedy North, and playing Sean Connery's daughter in Just Cause, Johansson knew her parents were still stretching their funds to make them last to the end of the month. Her dad, an architect, and her mom, who's now her manager, separated when Johansson was 13 and are now divorced.
"Until I was about 12 or so, we never had a bag lunch or anything like that. We always had school lunches," Johansson says. "Looking back at it now, it was the most practical thing for my parents -- they could send us off and not worry. They knew we were fed and educated. So I know firsthand how important these school lunches are for kids."
That's why, when Stan Curtis, who directs the national food charity USA Harvest, approached the star of Lost in Translation and The Other Boleyn Girl about working with a new program that would make sure kids on school lunch programs also got enough food over the weekend, she jumped at the chance.
The program, called Blessings in a Backpack, was launched in 2005 and now feeds 23,600 children in more than 100 U.S. schools. Local volunteers raise money to buy the food at the substantial discounts USA Harvest negotiates, and then they deliver the backpacks every Friday to schools with subsidized-lunch programs in their area. (Want to help feed America's hungry children? Read Scarlett Gives Back to learn how you can donate time, money, and food to make sure kids get the nourishment they need.)
"I think, especially now, a lot of people are struggling financially, and a lot of kids don't know where their next meal is coming from," says the Golden Globe-nominated actor and current face of Dolce & Gabbana ads. "They see their parents trying to scrape together money or welfare or food stamps for meals. For parents to have some relief and know their kids are fed for those extra two days of the week makes a huge difference."
Johansson, who is a recipient of the 2009 WebMD Health Hero Award in recognition of her dedication to feeding in-need children throughout the nation, thinks volunteering with Blessings in a Backpack is a particularly good way for parents to teach their children the importance of serving their communities.