Saturday, April 11, 2009

Dunwoody’s Natasha Lebowitz turns delivering meals into a cherished family affair with Project Open Hand.

H.M. Cauley for the AJC

As a working mom, Dunwoody’s Natasha Lebowitz wanted the time she spent with her 3-year-old to be meaningful and precious. That meant ruling out another Saturday morning play date or sports activity. “I just didn’t want to sign us up for another gym class,” said Lebowitz. “I wanted to do something meaningful that we could do together.”

Lebowitz found the perfect combination of mommy-time and meaningful activity: delivering meals to homebound elderly and ailing clients of Open Hand, a nonprofit that prepares and distributes food packages to 17 North Georgia counties. That was five years ago, and two more children later, Lebowitz is still showing up each Saturday with food for needy folks around Atlanta.

“At first, people —- even my husband, Errol —- thought I was crazy, dragging this little boy with me,” said Lebowitz. “But people loved seeing this darling little boy, and he liked seeing all the people every week. When I became pregnant with my second, my husband became my driver and he loved it, too. He even took over my route while I was home with the baby.”

Two years ago, Lebowitz quit her day job as a buyer with Macy’s to raise her family: David, now 7; Paulina, 5; and Sammy, 3. And she turned the Saturday morning meal delivery into a family affair. “We’ve just never stopped since we started,” said Lebowitz. “Sometimes we even take some of the kids’ school friends along. It’s a nice experience for everyone involved and it’s good family time.”

The family starts out by heading to Midtown, where they load their white Toyota Sequoia with meals for 10 Open Hand clients. They’ve occasionally handled deliveries for as many as 20 people in one morning. Their main service area is in the Buford Highway-Clairmont Road area, where they encounter a wide range of ages and situations.

“A lot of the people we see are just elderly, but we also see some young guys,” said Lebowitz. “Most of them are on special diets because of diabetes or renal problems. At one time, we saw a young mother who had four kids. That was a real eye-opener for my children to see that not everyone has video games and all the things they have at home.”

The best part of the day comes when the kids and the clients interact, said Lebowitz. “Some of them really take time with my kids. One family of Russian immigrants, the husband plays chess with my son. At one time, we had two buildings where there were many Russian Jewish immigrants and, being Jewish, that was a good connection for us.”

The weekly outing can take as long as three hours, Lebowitz said. “But I figure, what else would we be doing then? Watching TV and lazing around the house? My children know that if we don’t do this, there are going to be a lot of people who may not get a good lunch that day. Some people have even said we shouldn’t do it because it’s Shabbat [the Jewish day of rest], but helping out in the community is the right thing to do. And it’s a really easy thing that can mean a lot for everyone.”

4 fun facts about … Natasha Lebowitz

1. She is the captain of an ALTA tennis team.

2. In addition to Open Hand, she volunteers weekly at Greenfield Hebrew Academy, where all three of her children are enrolled.

3. After graduating from Indiana University, she headed east to start a career with Macy’s, where she met her husband in a Long Island branch store.

4. She runs the Dunwoody Club Forest Turning Leaves Book Club.

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