Topaz T. Page-Green, The Lunchbox Fund, Woman Entrepreneur

topazTopaz had done an interview with AlleyWire as I had too and saw my profile and asked Neil St. Clair to put us in touch.  I checked out Topaz’s organization, The Lunchbox Fund that fosters education through nutrition dedicated to feeding school children in townships and rural areas in South Africa.  I thought it was really clever that they had released an app that if you take a picture of what you are eating at a partner restaurant and post it to your social media thread then that restaurant will make a direction donation to the Lunchbox Fund.  Very clever.  I wanted to hear more so Topaz and I scheduled a call.

Topaz grew up in Johannesburg.  She graduated high school two years after apartheid ended.  Her father was a bit of a renegade gemologist.  He would go to Botswana, Angolia, Zimbabwe and other areas in the bush around Africa to discover gems for companies.  He had a nose for it, a natural ability to uncover where deposits of gems were.  He was also the guy who would dive into the ocean and rise up with a barracuda between his hands.  Topaz refers to it as a blood diamond characteristic. Her Mom would follow him around to these excursions sometimes with the kids but mostly without.  Hence the name Topaz and her sister is Jade and her brother is Brandon after her father.

When Topaz turned 17 she decided that it was not only a given but a must that it was time to leave South Africa.  She packed it up and moved to London with zero idea of how to support herself.  Looking back she realizes how bold that was.  She stayed for about a week with a friend of a friends daughter (through her Mom) before moving to a youth hostel.  She quickly figured out how to make ends meet from working as a waitress, cleaning toilets, doing manicures, being a coat check and even pretending should could be a graphic artist by convincing the people who hired her that she had left her portfolio back in South Africa.

She kept this up for about three years staying in apartments with many people and decided that she should move to NYC.  She had an old boyfriend, who had unfortunately died, who’s sister lived in NYC and told Topaz she should come and visit.  She got on a plane, landed on her doorstep and decided that NYC was a place she never wanted to leave.  She had zero education, experience or money. Being in the US without a visa is not easy so she figured out how to get a visa which was by taking a modeling job.  It was a means to an end.  She really didn’t love it but through that she was able to secure her legal status and eventually get a green card.  That enabled Topaz to make enough money to apply to NYU and get into the Gallatin program.  Her ability to figure it out is impressive to say the least.

At Gallatin you create your own program.  She put together a program for herself where she would be a sociology/anthropology major focused on African religion and human rights.  Her intention was to learn.

Between her freshman and sophomore year she found herself back in Johannesburg with her boyfriend who was making a movie there.  Topaz went to visit some of the underserved townships with a friend who was a school teacher. She had never experienced or seen when she was growing up. She noticed at one of the schools that at lunch the kids definitely divided up based on who had food and who didn’t.  She saw first hand how painful it was for the kids who had no food.  It hit her like a ton of bricks.  It was so matter of fact and nobody seemed to have any empathy for the kids going hungry.  Topaz decided to do something about it.  She will tell you that she always knew she would do something charitable.  Even at 15 she told people that she would probably go work in a prison or a soup kitchen when she grew up.

Topaz went back to NYC and launched the Lunchbox Fund.  She was in her second year of NYU.  She applied for non-profit status.  To feed a hundred kids at a school in a township it costs $5000.  She talked about it at her literature class and that day raised $6k.  She began to do benefits and slowly the organization grew.  Today they feed about 6000 kids a day and are on track to feed 50,000 by the year 2016.  12 million kids a year do not get fed on a daily basis.  Topaz started in South Africa but would like to grow into other locations.

The board of the Lunchbox Fund is impressive.  Mario Batali, Joaquin Phoenix and Desmond Tutu as a honorary patron to name a few.  How did that happen for a woman who left home at 17 to figure it out half way around the globe?  So I asked her who her boyfriend was that shot the movie in South Africa.  It was Joaquin Phoenix who she had met in a restaurant one random day and sparks flew.  She was with him for four years.  So while we were talking I imaged Topaz on Google.  She is absolutely stunning.  She is always extremely street smart, savvy and passionate which makes for a winning combination.  I give her major kudos for using her beauty to land in a job in modeling and then leverage that financially to go to NYU and build something that she really wanted to do.

Her ideal is to make a huge impact with a low cost like Tom’s Shoes by turning the apps into cash for the organization.  There are always challenges when you start and run a non-profit.  Topaz has done an incredible job at leveraging people to do pro-bono work but at one point she knows that you have to pay people to do something like building an app.  Topaz is a little bit like her father as she isn’t pulling a shark out of the water or finding gems in the bush but she is figuring out how to find those gems to help feed kids in the country she came from and based on talking to her I would not be surprised to see her eventually feed hungry kids around the globe.

 

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