Viola Davis in 2013
ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Viola Davis has been able to navigate the harsh landscape of Hollywood because she got an early lesson in survival.

The 49-year-old native of South Carolina grew up in abject poverty and often did not know where her next meal was going to come from, she said Friday speaking at Variety magazine’s Power of Women luncheon in Los Angeles, according to US Weekly. She was recognized for her work with the Hunger Is campaign, alongside other celebrities, who were recognized for their humanitarian efforts.

"I was one of the 17 million kids in this country who didn't know where the next meal was coming from, and I did everything to get food,” Davis said through tears, the magazine says. “I have stolen for food. I have jumped in huge garbage bins with maggots for food. I have befriended people in the neighborhood, who I knew had mothers who cooked three meals a day for food, and I sacrificed a childhood for food and grew up in immense shame."

Today she is an Academy Award-nominated actress and the star of ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder. During the event, she said her meager beginnings inspired her to get involved with the Hunger Is campaign, which is dedicated to raising awareness and money for families in the U.S.

"It has been the joy of my life to be able to start this campaign and know that that little girl with the ponytail [referring to herself as a child] and all the children like her—17 million, 21 million families in this country that have to be in food assistance programs—that all of that can be eradicated,’’ she said, according to the magazine.

Read more at US Weekly.