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Scarlett Johansson Feeds Hungry Children

2009 WebMD Health Hero Scarlett Johansson is on a mission to feed hungry kids for a very personal reason. She used to be one of them.

Scarlett Blesses Blessings in a Backpack continued...

"Kids love to know that they're helping other kids," she says. "It's nice to be able to explain to them that, hey, something we don't really think about -- like when your friends come over on Saturday and we have a barbecue -- is really important to someone else. Not everybody's as fortunate as we are."

Johansson, who will be 25 on Nov. 22, began working with USA Harvest in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when she sought out a charity working in the storm-ravaged Delta. She knew exactly what she wanted. "I was looking for a nongovernmental program that had low administrative costs that I could help with disaster relief," she says. "One of the first things people think about in times of disaster is 'How am I going to feed my family?'"

When she researched USA Harvest, Johansson at first couldn't believe what she learned. The organization, which gathers surplus food donated by restaurants, hotels, and supermarkets and delivers it to local food banks, spends none of the donations it receives on administrative costs.
"I thought, God, this is impossible! It's all-volunteer? How do they do it?"

Scarlett Johansson and Hurricane Katrina

Johansson soon saw firsthand how it worked in New Orleans, where she went with Curtis to the Made With Love Café & Grill in St. Bernard Parish. Located in the parking lot of an off-track betting parlor, the café was a project of Emergency Communities, an organization that provides community-based disaster relief.

"Emergency Communities normally sets up a site for a couple of months, providing food banks, Internet stations, shower stalls, anything to help people rebuild in the aftermath of a disaster," Johansson explains. "But in New Orleans, they stayed much longer. On our food line, we were feeding people living in FEMA trailers, Red Cross workers, and even people who had pitched tents right on the parking lot and were just living there."

She still recalls one woman she met who'd just lost her restaurant job after the place closed down. "She was completely bewildered," Johansson says. "She had two kids in school, no money and no income, and she was in excruciating pain from dental problems, and the lines for any emergency care were just hours and hours long. It was a disaster. It's so hard to understand how these people could just be overlooked."

Dishing out food at Made With Love -- which served more than 200,000 meals from December 2005 to May 2006 -- Johansson talked to hundreds of people with similar stories.

"I asked them how often they came there, and 90% of the people I served said they came for three meals a day. They had no other way of getting food. I said, 'Stan, this is shocking!' But it's something he sees all the time."

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