The Oscar-nominated actress admits she's ashamed of her childhood because she was so poor growing up that she would steal from her local shop and hunt through rubbish.
She explained to PEOPLE.com: "I was one of those kids who grew up hungry. I'm 48 years old now, and it's only been recently that I can admit that I would jump in trash bins looking for food and I would steal from the corner store because I was hungry. I would fall asleep in school on a daily basis because we had nothing."
The brunette beauty, who grew up in Central Falls, Rhode Island, also never invited her friends round to her home after school because it was located in a run-down area and was infested with vermin.
She explained: "My house was a condemned building - it was boarded up and infested with rats."
However, Viola has now teamed up with the Safeway Foundation and the Entertainment Industry Foundation for the 'Hunger Is' campaign to help raise funds to beat childhood hunger and help youngsters achieve their goals.
Viola, who has five siblings, said: "I am the first generation of my family to go to college. Those programs made all the difference for me. It's been cathartic for me because I always had a lot of shame with going in the garbage dumps that had maggots in it, too. It has brought healing in my life to be able to talk about it."