Image: David Arquette
Feeding America
David Arquette, chairman of Feeding America’s Entertainment Council, packs backpacks with donated food for the LA Regional Food Bank.
By
NBC News
updated 3/25/2010 12:03:10 PM ET 2010-03-25T16:03:10

Cause Celeb highlights a celebrity’s work on behalf of a specific cause. This week, we speak with actor David Arquette about his work with Feeding America, the leading domestic hunger-relief charity in the United States. Each year, Feeding America distributes billions of pounds of food to more than 37 million people, including more than 14 million children.

As chairman of the Entertainment Council of Feeding America, Arquette has participated in various initiatives with the organization along with other entertainers such as Ben Affleck and Rachel Ray. Arquette made a name for himself in Hollywood after appearing in the "Scream" trilogy with future wife Courtney Cox. In addition to appearing on film, he has worked in television and also pursued a brief stint in the World Championship Wrestling as a professional wrestler.

Q: What is Hunger in America 2010 and the Feeding America Entertainment Council?

Arquette: Hunger in America 2010 is the largest study of domestic hunger ever conducted. It takes an in-depth look at people in need. They interviewed more than 61,000 face-to-face clients and also did surveys of 37,000 local charitable agencies to help gather information about who’s hungry, who’s in need, and how to best provide emergency food assistance to those people.

I work with Feeding America, I’m the chairman of the Entertainment Council. The council is a group of people in the entertainment industry — celebrities, actors, actresses, celebrity chefs, athletes, musicians — they all come together to raise awareness about hunger in America. The requirement is really to make it a cause that you support, that you at least are involved in, one or two or as many as you really can, events a year, just to raise awareness about it really. That’s one thing that we as celebrities can do, help bring attention toward certain things. Hopefully, you use it in a positive way, and you can get people to talk about it.

Q: What are your specific duties as chairman of the Entertainment Council?

Arquette: We’ve done a bunch of stuff. We help come up with ideas on how to bring more awareness to Feeding America. We plan certain events. My wife and I just did Stamp Out Hunger, which is an event coming up in May, where people are supposed to leave a box of non-perishable food outside their mailbox and a letter carrier will pick it up and deliver it to their local food bank, and that raises millions of pounds of food for hungry Americans. So, Courtney [Cox] and I did a little ad for that, and it runs in magazines, and we did a little promo. We do public service announcements.

We also work a lot hand-in-hand with different corporations, Krogers and Campbells — there’s several different companies that support Feeding America. The Cheesecake Factory — I did this initiative for them where they sent a food truck around and they also donated a portion of their red velvet cheesecake to Feeding America. It’s several different things. We also arranged a concert last year called “Rock a Little, Feed a Lot,” where Sheryl Crow wrote an original song for them. They’re my friends who I ask them to do me a favor and everybody has been really supportive. It’s been amazing really to be able to do this at a time where the economy is so bad, and there’s so many people in need.

So, just a little about Feeding America. They’re the nation’s largest hunger-relief charity. They have over 200 food banks, and they help secure and distribute 2.6 billion pounds of food a year. From the 200 food banks, they then help it move to 61,000 agencies like churches, missions, homeless shelters, different organizations. They feed over 37 million Americans a year including 14 million children and 3 million seniors. In part with this hunger study, they discovered that that’s a 46 percent increase from four years ago. They’re really doing the work out there. They work hand-in-hand with these amazing food banks and agencies, and they really help get the food to people in need, and that’s really why I’m a part of it.

I’ve worked at a pantry myself. After getting involved with Feeding America and sort of doing all this stuff, I wanted to do stuff on my own. They’re plenty of opportunity for people to donate their own time, because Feeding America really thrives on volunteerism. It’s the heartbeat of what they do. It helps to keep all their costs down. A tremendous amount of every dollar that’s donated goes right back to the cause, and it’s really a super-lean charity. There’s not a lot of waste or that sort of thing.

Q: Have you had a particularly moving moment while working with Feeding America?

Arquette: There’s been several really. I was able to go to the National Conference of Food Banks of Feeding America and talk to a lot of people. To me, these are the true heroes. They’re the people who have been working at feeding people for years, 20 years-plus some of them. You meet them and you talk to them and you hear their stories. Some of them were in need themselves at one point and now have turned it all around and are helping feed thousands of people.

It’s an amazing organization, and you see what they do and how deeply they care. It’s an organization that was started from a businessman who saw a lady with her child going through the garbage in the '70s. He was like, “We live in America, this should never happen!” He started this organization that helps distribute food to those in need. It’s really built on the goodness of humanity. If people want to get involved they can go to feedingamerica.org.

When you work in a food bank, especially recently, and I’ve seen the increase at the pantry I work at, you see people come in for emergency bags, and it’s somebody who isn’t in the system yet who’s just in need. It’s sort of like they don’t know what to do, they need to feed their family and they come in. I saw this old Russian women, you could tell she was elegant and had never been in this position before and was just very humbled and saddened by having to do this. You see a kid who’s in a stroller come in, and as soon as they get the bag, he rips it open, grabs a roll and starts eating a piece of bread … you know, it’s just … they’re working Americans.

Q: Do you see this happening more and more with the economy in its present state?

Arquette: Yes, more and more. The lines have increased insanely. It’s been noticeable on every level. It’s really the time for people to really step up and do what they can, whatever it is. Work with your church, go down to a food bank. You can get a group of people from your office and go to a food bank and work on the assembly line. That’s something fun to do. You sort through the different cans and make sure they’re not punctured, and you sort them and help organize for the people.

Q: What is the one thing people should know about hunger in the United States that they may not know?

Arquette: It’s not just a homeless problem. I’m not sure if the numbers have changed since this Hunger in America study, but previous to this study, 11 percent that Feeding America fed were the homeless; the rest were working Americans, seniors living on a fixed income, children. That’s pretty much the most important thing people should know. There’s no shame in having to go get a bag of food to help supplement your income. That’s the biggest misconception I’ve seen. Then, when you work with these people, you see them, you get to know them, they become your friends. I’ve met some incredible people throughout this experience.

Q: Why did you decide to get involved with this type of program?

Arquette: When I was in school I used to be on the food lunch program, and I remember times during the actor’s strike in the '70s when my father wasn’t working, it was really difficult in coming home and not having a lot to eat and really skimping and knowing what it feels like to be hungry. It’s a terrible feeling, especially for children. Children need food to learn, to thrive, to have successful lives—that’s really what it’s about, helping people and families have a better future. That’s what we all have to do for each other in general, it’s like being the best people we can be.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Arquette: Volunteer and donate money. One dollar turns into so many meals for Feeding America. They really can make it stretch, because the dollar pays for distribution. They secure the food and then they get it out. The cost of that compared to actually going and preparing food, and buying it, and cooking it, and having a place to put it together — that’s what the agencies do, like a mission or soup kitchen. But by donating to Feeding America, you help them provide the food to these different organizations. Any kind of donation to feedingamerica.org, or any kind of volunteering you could do to your local food bank or local community center.

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