- Robbins partnered with 'Feeding America,' to help fight against hunger
- Robbins says: "The idea that strangers cared about my family just completely changed my experience of life."
(CNN)Tony Robbins knows what it's like to be hungry.
Growing up in Southern California, the now 57 year-old author, entrepreneur, philanthropist and self-made multi-millionaire, wasn't so prosperous. Robbins lived with his mother, various stepfathers, and siblings in a poor and often tumultuous home.
The holidays were not dazzled with gifts and feasts. It was quite the opposite, as his family got by with very little of anything.
A knock on the door
One Thanksgiving when Robbins was eleven, a stranger knocked on his door.
"I went to go get my dad because this man had two giant bags of groceries and an uncooked Turkey in a pan on the ground" Robbins recalled to CNN. "My dad came out and he did not have a positive reaction, he went to slam the door."
Robbins' father walked out on his family a short time later. But it was the stranger's kind gesture that made the biggest impact on young Tony that night.
"The idea that strangers cared about my family just completely changed my experience of life," Robbins said.
Paying it forward
When Robbins was seventeen, he asked his local church for the names of two needy families. Just before Thanksgiving, he delivered baskets of food to both households, each with a simple note in English and Spanish:
"This is a gift from a friend. Everybody has tough times so please accept this gift and if you can, someday do something like this for someone else to pay it forward."
"I show up on Thanksgiving at this one woman's house," Robbins recalled, "and I knock on the door and she sees the groceries and she screams and starts to kiss me and I was like 'no, no, no delivery boy!' I wasn't looking for the acknowledgment, I just wanted to see the impact."
What Robbins saw next stays with him to this day.
"All the sudden the kids came and they were going crazy. When it was time to leave, I got in the van and I looked in the rear view mirror and the four kids were on the porch and there's the mom crying and smiling from ear to ear simultaneously. I broke down crying uncontrollably and it's the day I realized that my worst day was my best day. The day my dad left, as horrible as that was- I wouldn't be out here feeding people if I hadn't been through that pain myself."
As Robbin's public image grew, so did his commitment to help hungry Americans. The philanthropist estimates that he eventually was feeding four million people each year.
It still wasn't enough as far as Robbins was concerned, especially as he watched congress make massive cuts to the federal SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) program.
So three years ago, he partnered with 'Feeding America,' the United States' largest domestic hunger-relief group with a network of over 200 food banks.
Their joint project, aptly named "100 Million Meals Challenge," strives to provide one billion meals by 2025 (100 million meals each year.)
"They are the most efficient organization in the United States around hunger relief," Robbins said of his Feeding America partners. The partnership has its work cut out. According to Feeding America, 46 million Americans struggle with hunger. That includes almost 13 million children and more than five million senior citizens.
Giving back is a gift
Aside from delivering food to those that need it most, Robbins is fighting the stereotypes and shame many hungry people face. One way he does that is with his "Basket Brigade," which hands out beautiful gift baskets of food to people who don't necessarily ask for help, but need it. He said the baskets are made to look and feel like a gift, not a handout.
"If you live in this country and you're struggling, most people are embarrassed. We live in a social media world where everybody is supposedly happy and gorgeous every moment, rather than something that's real and it makes it hard for people," Robbins said. "Everybody has challenges at different times. People in need are not always homeless. Sometimes it's people that you know at your work."
While the hunger crisis in America can't be stamped out by one person, Robbins is doing his best to make a difference.
"If you can have a meaningful impact on a dozen people, one person, millions of people it doesn't matter the volume. It's looking in that one person's eyes and saying 'because I did this, their life is better,'" Robbins said. "I don't know many things that are more fulfilling."