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Day of Thanks: Once homeless herself, actress Jackie Cruz helping kids in need

  • NEW YORK, NY - JULY 14:  Actress Jackie Cruz attends the opening party and celebration of LOVE: From Cave to Keyboard, Imagined by Pepsi at 433 Broadway on July 14, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Pepsi)

    NEW YORK, NY - JULY 14: Actress Jackie Cruz attends the opening party and celebration of LOVE: From Cave to Keyboard, Imagined by Pepsi at 433 Broadway on July 14, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Pepsi)  (2016 Getty Images)

  • Jackie Cruz at a Hoodies for the Homeless event in New York City. (Photo: Rebekah Sager/Fox News Latino)

    Jackie Cruz at a Hoodies for the Homeless event in New York City. (Photo: Rebekah Sager/Fox News Latino)

The “Orange is the New Black” actress, Jackie Cruz, aka “Flaca,” knows something about being homeless, and now that she has the opportunity to give back, she says, that’s exactly what she intends to do.

Born in New York City but raised in the Dominican Republic and Los Angeles, Cruz chose to leave her mother’s home when she was a teenager. When things didn’t go as planned with her roommate, the two ended up living in a Honda Civic.

But Cruz’s life went from bad to worse when at 17 she was in a horrifying car accident.

She says she was left half-bald and in a coma after having brain surgery. She returned to the Dominican Republic to recover, and it was there, she says, that her life changed.

Cruz met a little girl, a quadriplegic patient at her rehab center, who told her she was pretty, even without hair or covered in scars.

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“I figured out that it was never going to be about how I looked, but how I made someone feel,” Cruz told Fox News Latino.

Now living in Brooklyn, New York, and currently shooting the fifth season of Netflix’s original show, “Orange Is the New Black,” Cruz is now committed to giving back.

The actress and singer recently partnered with a local organization that outfits kids in need, Hoodies for the Homeless, which was founded by Tavis Eaton, the singer of the group Push Method.

“I have a voice now. 'OITNB' gives me that, and why not use it for good?” Cruz asks.

Fox News Latino got a chance to see Cruz in action at a Thanksgiving week event, surrounded by nearly 80 kids, where they got a chance to eat some pizza, listen to music and receive a much-appreciated hoodie.

“I feel like I’m one of them. I never had a dad, but I was raised by a big and extended family,” Cruz says. “I don’t say things happen for a reason, but if I hadn’t lived in a car or lived through the car accident, then I wouldn’t be who I am today or where I am today.” 

Rebekah Sager is a writer and editor for FoxNews.com. She can be reached at rebekah.sager@foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @rebekah_sager.