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South African model Topaz Page-Green was not only blessed with a fast metabolism and great bone structure, she inherited from her free-spirited parents a strong social conscience.
After high school, Page-Green moved to London, where she began her modeling career. When she returned to South Africa after a several-year absence, she was shocked by what she saw. The extreme poverty she’d been immune to her whole life now seemed glaringly obvious.“I was spending a lot of time in the townships when I came back,” she said. “That stuff had a really strong effect on me. It was really obvious that these children were hungry and that was so unacceptable to me.”
In 2005 she created The Lunchbox Fund, a charity that provides a daily meal to poor and at-risk students in South African township high schools.
Page-Green developed her intrepid spirit growing up on the outskirts of Johannesburg in a house built by her father. “It was quite wild,” she said. “The house was at the end of a dirt road. It was a 40-minute drive to school.” Her Zimbabwe-born dad was quite the explorer and Page-Green’s mother “was right there alongside him. Dad was very adventurous. He’d go skin diving and come up with a shark under his arm. He was dashing and charismatic.”
The Lunchbox Fund has grown from providing 100 children with a daily meal at its inception to feeding more than 180,000 kids. “The number of children who need support is almost endless,” Page-Green said.
“The kids are so great,” she added. “They inspire you. They don’t feel sorry for themselves and don’t take anything for granted. Being able to be a microscopic part of [making their lives better] is a wonderful thing.”
Over a recent un-model-like breakfast of croissants and coffee at Balthazar in New York, Page-Green said Lunchbox allows her to “use every single drop of my creative self.”
Page-Green has a network of supporters, from the arts to politics. One fund-raising event featured lunch boxes decorated by Bill Clinton, Beyoncé Knowles and Zac Posen, among others, that were later auctioned.
She asked her notable friends to create for this year’s event one-off handmade books “with original content that represents who they are.” Made from scratch and hand bound by Ruth Lingen, the books will be exhibited at Pace Prints from Tuesday through March 21, when they’ll be auctioned during a benefit at Del Posto. There’s a story by Archbishop Desmond Tutu illustrated by South African artist Paul Du Toit; a short story by Salman Rushdie illustrated by Francesco Clemente; lyrics handwritten in calligraphy by Sting; 10 Bob Gruen prints of John Lennon with annotations by Yoko Ono, and a handwritten score by Philip Glass. Chuck Close, Valentino, Tony Bennett, Deepak Chopra, Michael Stipe, Sir Ben Kingsley and Shepard Fairey are also contributing volumes. A limited edition cookbook with 10 original Mario Batali recipes is illustrated with linocuts by Jim Dine.
Dr. Nicholas Perricone, the celebrity skin doctor, is the title sponsor of the event. He was introduced to The Lunchbox Fund by Eva Mendes, one of his patients. “Eva has worked with Joaquin Phoenix, who is on our board,” Page-Green said. “She also decorated lunch boxes for previous auctions.”
Page-Green, who is based here, travels frequently to South Africa. “The fund became a solid, full-time job in the last couple of years,” she said. “Every single bit of who I am and everything I dream of, I can weave into growing this. I don’t know what else I would do.”