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Feeding Every Child

Inspired by her twin daughters, actress Marcia Cross raises awareness of childhood hunger.

By Sarah Jane Brian | November , 2011
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This time of year, when many of us begin to get caught up in a joyous whirlwind of togetherness, delicious meals, and holiday celebration, it is sobering to remember that so many families — some in our own towns and neighborhoods — struggle just to put food on the table. Naturally we count our blessings, and, perhaps more so now than during other months, that gratitude we feel motivates us to seek out more creative ways to lend a hand to those who are less fortunate.

Marcia Cross, 49, star of Desperate Housewives (now in its eighth and final season), and the mother of 4-year-old twins Eden and Savannah, embodies that spirit of gratitude and giving back. She’s long been an avid supporter of a variety of causes that are dear to her heart (and ours), from women’s health to cancer research. More recently, the experience of becoming a mom inspired her to join with the organization Feeding America in the fight against childhood hunger. We asked Cross to help us get the message out about how important it is to put food on the tables of underserved children and how you and your child can make a difference in the lives of other families. We also caught up with the actress about her surprising plans for after her show concludes in the spring.

Parent & Child: You came to motherhood later than many women. How did the experience inspire you to get involved in fighting childhood hunger?
Marcia Cross:
When I became a mother, my focus shifted, and the thought of a child going hungry affected me deeply. The fact that, in this day and age, some parents can’t feed their kids made me want to do something to help.

P&C: So you teamed up with the group Feeding America in 2009?
Cross:
Yes, and it’s been an incredible experience. I was shocked to learn, through working with this organization, that between 14 million and 16 million children in the United States live in what they call “food insecure” homes. That means that the family does not have steady access to food that meets their basic needs, and they tend not to know when the next meal is coming. You’re used to thinking of hunger in Africa or somewhere else — you don’t think of it in your own backyard.

P&C: Can you tell us about a memorable project you worked on with Feeding America?
Cross:
In New York, I helped out with a great program that goes into schools and fills backpacks with food for kids to take home for the weekend. The weekend is when these children are not getting school breakfast and lunch, so many have to go with no food or very little to eat until Monday comes around. The backpacks give them a bunch of staples — fruit, pasta and sauce, juice — to get them through. And the food isn’t just for the kids, but for everyone in the house. It feeds entire families.

P&C: Do you have any suggestions for ways that our readers and their families can get involved?
Cross:
Volunteering at a food drive is a great option for families. You might also host a bake sale and donate the proceeds to a local food bank or shelter. If you can, make a donation through the Feeding America website (feedingamerica.org). I know people don’t have much extra money right now to give, but even a few dollars can help to feed a number of children. There are ways that everyone can contribute. (See Reach Out, below, for more ideas that we developed together with Cross.)

P&C: Your own daughters are so young right now. How do you anticipate including them more in your efforts when they grow a little older?
Cross:
You’re right. The fact that other children go hungry is a lot for kids that age to process. I don’t want to overwhelm them, so I’ve been slowly filtering in information. I did a public service announcement for another charity that I’m involved with called Plan USA — through this organization you can sponsor children all over the world. I watched the PSA carefully, and I thought, “It’s finally appropriate.” I showed it to my daughters and it made a huge impact on them, seeing kids who didn’t have fresh water or much of anything.

P&C: How else have you started teaching your girls the importance of giving back?
Cross:
A trip I made to Children’s Hospital Boston was eye-opening for all of us. They were too young to go with me and didn’t understand why I was going, but when I brought home a beautiful book the hospital made for me about my visit with the kids there, Eden and Savannah became very curious. We looked at the book together and one of the girls said, “Mom, I think you should go to the gift shop and get them all presents.” And I said, “Oh, honey, that’s a wonderful idea. That’s exactly what I’m going to do next time.” My heart was exploding. As the girls get older, I’m excited to take them out to help. There are so many things I’ll be able to do with them — like, for several years my husband and I have been going to a downtown women’s shelter, where we give out Thanksgiving dinners. To me, that’s just what makes life rich and fulfilling — helping others by giving, and having gratitude.

P&C: That’s a wonderful Thanksgiving tradition. How has your celebration of this holiday changed since you had your daughters?
Cross:
For us, Thanksgiving is a time to be with our friends, because my extended family isn’t here in California. Now we have the girls’ friends over too, and the girls make place cards together for everyone.

P&C: It’s always heartwarming for a parent to see her children working together and bonding. Do your girls get along well because they’re similar?
Cross:
Though twins, they’re completely different! One of them recently started karate, and watching her first tournament blew me away. The other one is into dance. You have to be open to the different directions they take.

P&C: What insights have you gained from raising twins that you’d like to share with other parents of twins or multiples?
Cross:
Well, it just gets easier. That’s the thing to remember when you’re in the trenches. I’ve never had only one, so I don’t know anything different. I think having these two girls who love, balance, and play with each other is just the most extraordinary thing.

P&C: How do you handle the challenges that motherhood presents?
Cross:
People are always recently surprised because my character on the show seems perfect, she has it all together, and I’m the opposite. I struggle like every other mother, and I’m constantly trying to figure out how to do it better or to cut myself some slack when something’s not exactly right.

P&C: Speaking of your show, how do you see your family life changing when the series ends?
Cross:
Since my girls will be going into kindergarten next year, I’m happy that I’ll have more time to be there for them when they make that transition. I’m looking foward to being a classroom mom! I’m also looking forward to reconnecting with my other friends. They’ve been supportive for the past eight years, and I want to be there for them now.

P&C: You have a masters in psychology. Have you thought about pursuing something in that field?
Cross:
It’s funny, because someone recently started a rumor about that. As a result, the place where I did my clinical training contacted me about possibly helping them. I’ll see what capacity they’re talking about. I would love to be an advocate for issues surrounding mental health.

P&C: Would you say your psychology background has helped you to parent better?
Cross:
It makes me a good listener, and it gives me space to hold off on trying to solve all of my children’s problems. Eden was talking to me one day, sounding like a teenager. Something was bothering her. Like any other mother, I was thinking, “How do I handle this?” I flipped a question back on her. I said, “You know, I’m having that same problem with a person at my job. What do you think I should do?” It was so cute because she said, “Well, you could take a deep breath, you could go have a snack, you could talk to your friends.” By helping me, she was seeing what she could do for herself. It’s a little twisty thing I use to teach without always telling what to do. Because in therapy you’re not told the answers, you discover them yourself. I just shared this story with my husband, because it was definitely one of those sweet “Aha” moments. And I was sort of proud of myself.


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