(NEW YORK) — Selita Ebanks leads a pretty glamorous life, but the former Victoria’s Secret model tells ABC News that things haven’t always been so easy.
“My mom relied heavily on programs such as the Food Bank as well as other churches and organizations,” says the model, who now works with the Food Bank of New York City and is presenting at its annual Can-Do Awards Gala Tuesday night. “I lived in a community where it was very normal. We were all on food stamps and, if anything, the moms supported each other and told each other where to go and get assistance.”
In fact, especially in the summer, Ebanks, 30, says that she and her friends viewed the free meal program at their school as an excuse to socialize.
“All the kids in the projects would go there: ‘I’ll meet you at noon at the school for lunch,’” recalls the model, who grew up in New York City and Florida. “My mom worked and wasn’t there, so it was a great place to make sure that we’d have a meal.”
Ebanks, who spent a few months in foster care as a child, says that these experiences have inspired her to work with charities that provide for disenfranchised individuals–particularly, women and children.
“My mom’s from the Cayman Islands and she’s the epitome of the American dream,” she says. “She didn’t want us to worry about food–or if the kids at school had L.A. Light sneakers and my shoes didn’t light up. My mom was a big go-getter.”
Now, Ebanks tries to give back to her family by cooking them elaborate meals (“I’m such a big foodie–for my dad’s birthday I made my own ice cream!), taking them on vacations, and, perhaps most notably, buying a home for her mother in Georgia.
“I take great pride in being able to help my family out,” says Ebanks, who will be starring on the next season of the BET show, Househusbands of Hollywood. “It warms my heart and makes me feel like my mom’s hard work paid off.”
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Sara Sidner and Jason Kravarik, CNN Newswire
Lisa Respers France, CNN Newswire