ONE PERSON CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE – TOPAZ GREEN -THE LUNCHBOX FUND IN SOUTH AFRICA
This is another chapter in my ongoing series of one person can make a difference. What I am trying to show here is the “I’m only one person what can I do?” doesn’t cut it.. One person can make a huge difference. Today I’m focusing on an amazing woman Topaz Page- Green who has taken on the monumental task of feeding starving African children. And she is succeeding.
The first thing that strikes you when you meet Topaz is how gorgeous she is. So it is no surprise that this South African born beauty has been and sometimes reluctantly still models. But she will immediately tell you she only does it to help her with her real passion The LunchBox Fund a charity she started, one girl, limited resources to help feed school children in South Africa.
Her charity has grown and become a model for others. She has used her brains, her ingenuity, her charm and her profound work ethic to really turn this into something that is not only changing lives, but it’s growing every year.
I first met Topaz at an event she put together earlier this year to raise money for The Lunchbox Fund. She assembled an impressive array of writers, Salman Sushide, Jay McInerney, artist Chuck Close and many others who mixed art and text and made some extraordinary one of kind books that were auctioned off. But bold face names and glamorous evenings aside, she spends her days in jeans and no make-up, still looking beautiful, working tirelessly to feed these kids who without her would go without.
Can you describe for us what the Lunchbox Fund does?
The Lunchbox Fund provides a daily meal to impoverished, orphaned and vulnerable school children within the township and rural communities of South Africa. Receiving a free meal allows these children to stay in school, concentrate, and access their education to their fullest potential. Furthermore, the risk of HIV/AIDS, abuse and/or unwanted pregnancy is reduced when a child stays in school.
What was the inspiration for starting the Lunchbox Fund?
I was visiting schools in Soweto with Gillian Wilkinson who now our project manager. During break at one of the schools, I noticed children sitting apart from the others in a way that seemed strange. When asking the teacher why the students were under the trees like that, she replied they could not afford food and did not want to watch the others eating. They would pretend to be ‘busy’ so as not to draw attention to themselves, thereby masking their hunger, as well as their shame at being hungry. This was the inception point of The Lunchbox Fund.
What were the first steps you took to launch the organization?
First came experiencing and connecting (viscerally) with the need. Then, ideating how to most effectively address that need. Then setting up the infrastructure to do so, legally and financially.
For me, it was all done on a live and learn basis. Anyone can do it.
How many schools are you involved with? How many students are helped by the program at the moment?
We are currently in 8 schools and 1 orphanage, reaching almost 1300 children during an academic year, with intent to increase our capacity as far as possible.
What kinds of reactions and feedback have you gotten from the children and the schools?
We receive feedback of constant gratitude. Teachers say how attention span in class is increased and that students are able to concentrate better. They are grateful as it enables them to do their job of teaching more effectively. It is very challenging teaching hungry children. The atmosphere at break times is very lively. The children are so happy and grateful to receive a daily meal. The thank you letters we receive from the children are as uplifting as they are heartbreaking.
Is there a story of any particular child that stands out in your mind who has been effected by the Lunchbox Fund?
There was a boy named Ralph whose mother burned to death in a shack fire. He came to school daily and relied on the feeding program. This simple provision literally meant everything to him. There are several stories with this tenor, all of which ring out in my mind and constantly remind me what privilage we come from, even if that means struggling month to month and living in a two-bit walk up on the lower east side.
What have you learned during your time with the Lunchbox Fund?
The power of a simple gesture.
What has been your biggest obstacle?
Relying on pro bono work can sometimes be challenging as there may be a lack of incentive to follow through at times.
What advice do you have for someone who might be interested in starting a charity of their own?
In my experience, if you want to start your own charity, you have to love what you do and who you do it for unconditionally, expecting nothing in return, otherwise it will wear you out fast. If there are several other groups addressing the same issue, you may want to pair up with them, as opposed to starting something from scratch. And make sure the people who work with you are good.
What can we do to help? How can we be involved in the Lunchbox Fund?
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