Helena Turns up the Heat

Sure, she's posed as a sexy pirate in racy lingerie ads, but supermodel Helena Christensen is also a model citizen. Her latest gig? Getting food to those who can't afford it.

In a gritty corner of New York City, a green-eyed Danish-Peruvian supermodel is wandering the aisles, checking out the towering shelves of canned tropical-fruit salad, Special K cereal, and Chiquita bananas. Heads turn; guys smile. Helena Christensen is touring the facility to learn about the inner workings of the Food Bank for New York City, which is a member of Feeding America, a nonprofit group that provides billions of pounds of food for poor people across the country each year. "I really wanted to see what goes on behind the scenes," says Christensen, who works with the Food Bank to raise money and awareness.

At a time when the global hunger crisis is in the headlines every day, many people don't realize that there's a problem here in the U.S., too, says Christensen. In New York City, where approximately two out of five people report having trouble buying groceries, the Food Bank provides food for 300,000 free meals a day to soup kitchens, pantries, and shelters, thanks to donations from retailers, government agencies, and individuals. "Just because this is one of the most powerful countries in the world doesn't mean people aren't starving here," says Christensen, who now likes to work behind the lens as a photographer, in addition to her modeling and activism.

As she meets with the workers at the warehouse, Christensen asks questions, snaps photos, and swaps jokes. ("I need a freezer this size," she says as she enters a colossal, frosty, meat-filled room; a guy quips back, "You won't stay skinny for long.") Then she jumps into a car to visit a community kitchen in Harlem where some of the food goes. There, she makes a date to serve meals with her 9-year-old son, Mingus. "I want my son to know how lucky he is," says Christensen, who spent her own spare time as a kid in Denmark visiting with strangers at an old folks' home. "People can get so easily forgotten, and they can sink so low," she says. "They deserve respect."

For ways to donate time or money in your community, go to feedingamerica.org.

Abigail Pesta is an award-winning investigative journalist who writes for major publications around the world. She is the author of The Girls: An All-American Town, a Predatory Doctor, and the Untold Story of the Gymnasts Who Brought Him Down.