Tzedakah helps those ‘falling through the cracks’ during pandemic
Randy D. Adler has been watching the pandemic from his Atlanta restaurant, Babs Midtown, on Juniper Street. It’s his window into the world.
“I’m sitting on a catbird seat,” he says. “I watch people. I hear people, and I get to see what they’re stressing about.”
Adler has been part of Atlanta’s hospitality industry for at least three decades. He sees too many people in the business who need a paycheck, a meal, and a mental break. Last April, he started a nonprofit to help those who lost jobs during the pandemic.
Early on, as businesses began shuttering, the Tzedakah Project was launched to provide meals, employment services and other support to the community through a series of programs.
Tzedakah is a Hebrew word commonly used to signify charity; the nonprofit translates it as “doing the right thing.”
Adler has been active for many years in volunteerism with the Atlanta Jewish Community. He grew up in a home, were serving and giving to others were important.
“My parents always led by example,” he said, explaining that, though they were a low-income family, they never used it as an excuse not to give to others. “Even when we had nothing, we all volunteered,” Adler said.
Adler got his friend, Katie Lewis, to run the nonprofit, and she launched it in two weeks.
“We hit the ground running as fast as we could because we saw there was such an immediate need for all these people who were out of work so suddenly due to COVID,” said Lewis, who recently landed a new job in event planning after being out of work for 10 months.
One of the earlier projects provided meals to the unemployed by partnering with local restaurants. Another project provided free employment services, such as résumé writing, using the volunteer services of job skills professionals.
The current project, The Orion Principle, targets the health of mind, body and spirit. Signups are ongoing for various outdoor exercise activities so people can engage socially.
“It’s letting people meet people, letting them connect,” Adler said, noting the universal pandemic fallout of loneliness.
Various social activities from this project will continue through April – like a beer-tasting tour, a walking tour of the Beltline, yoga and meditation sessions. Everything’s free, but donations are accepted.
For May, the nonprofit is launching a community garden project, The Tiger Lily Memorial, in memory of Adler’s mother, Marcia Adler, who died in May.
Adler and Lewis plan on adding new projects as needs arise. They hear from many friends, who like themselves, have been part of the city’s hospitality industry as caterers, event planners, hairdressers, facility managers, and the like. As large-scale events began canceling, many of these jobs went away.
“They were all falling through the cracks,” Adler said. “There was nobody out there to say, ‘don’t panic, we’ve got you covered. We’re here for you.’”
Both Adler and Lewis can empathize with those they serve because they’re similarly living through the pandemic.
Lewis said she had to apply for food stamps and collect unemployment, both first experiences for her. Adler has had to stay up with constantly changing regulations to keep his restaurant doors open.
Said Lewis: “We wanted to put out the message that we’re here; we get you, we are you.” It’s not like we’re just people who have a bunch of money trying to give back. We are in the same situation that you are.
“Because we are a small, grassroots organization, we can execute a little quicker. We’re not such a huge corporation with levels of approval. We look at the need, look at the budget and say, ‘let’s do it.’”
Adler said he’s “thrilled” with what the nonprofit has accomplished in its first year and will continue to morph the organization as necessary.
“We’re young, and we can pivot very quickly,” he said. “We can change our mission statement to work now, then go back to our core values.
“It’s our duty as people to take care of one another; I firmly believe that with every ounce in my body.”
THE TZEDAKAH PROJECT
Who does it help? Anyone in need, especially those unemployed because of the pandemic.
How to get involved: For projects and signups, go to
What are the needs? Donations, both financial and in-kind. Nominate someone who needs help.
The Tzedakah Project continues to help during the pandemic
The Tzedakah (seh-dah-kah) Project is a 501c3 nonprofit organization that was created by the folks behind Babs Midtown to diminish the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic on people’s lives. The organization believes in providing assistance for those in our community who need help sustaining themselves, so they can ultimately do the same for others.
“Our organization was ‘born’ during the pandemic so while we started with our overall mission statement and values that will outlast our current crisis, we have adapted our programming to focus on those affected by the pandemic in a variety of ways,” said Randy D. Adler, founder of The Tzedakah Project.
Right now that focus is shifting toward mental health, because continued social distancing and working from home fosters solitude and detachment.
“We are approaching 10 months of the onset of stay-at-home orders and business closures and the financial strain of piled up bills and depleted savings is only overshadowed by feelings of loneliness and isolation,” said Adler. “Until we can all feel safe and secure in our environment, it is important to continue helping the community to be happier and healthier.”
The Tzedakah Project’s next initiative will be The Orion Principle, a three-tiered program focusing on body, mind and spirit.
“The goal is to reach members of our community that may feel isolated or alone and are looking for a way to improve their physical and mental health in a safe and socially distant manner,” said Katie Lewis, executive director of The Tzedakah Project.
The best way to keep up with The Tzedakah Project’s programs, which include toiletry and dog food distribution, grocery funds and meal distribution, is to follow them on social media, where they can be found at @thetzedakahproject.
The Tzedakah Project
Services: The Tzedakah Project has enacted several different initiatives to help the community during the coronavirus pandemic, including food distribution, a gardening program and giving out toiletries.
How to help: Financial donations are appreciated, as is spreading the word. Follow The Tzedakah Project on social media (@thetzedakahproject), tag it in posts and refer it to friends.
Where to donate: Direct donations can be made via Paypal on The Tzedakah Project website or an address for checks can be obtained by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. It is also registered with Facebook/Instagram so friends of the organization can create fundraisers and collect donations that way. The Tzedakah Project is also part of the Amazon Smile program (smile.amazon.com/ch/85-0676634) and Kroger Community Rewards (#VE275 at All of this info can also be found at
How to get help: Follow The Tzedakah Project on Facebook and Instagram for updates on programming. New projects will be listed on the website but also announced through social media. If you have a specific need, please contact .
Today we’d like to introduce you to Randy D. Adler and Katie Lewis.
Originally from New York, Randy D. Adler is the founder of The Tzedakah Project. Following his graduation from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, he moved to Atlanta and has continued his work in the hospitality industry through his own company, Pookie Enterprises, which currently operates Babs Midtown. He has also partnered and consulted with other restaurants, chefs, and catering companies. Additionally, he has served on several non-profit boards, including Atlanta Jewish Family and Career Services, Atlanta Jewish Federation for Planning and Allocations, and the Goldstein Council. He was also selected from more than 600 applicants to earn a nomination for Incorporated Magazine as a Positive Performer Award finalist, which nationally recognizes businesses determined to excel in customer service.
Executive Director, Katie Lewis, is originally from Oregon but moved to Atlanta to attend Emory University. She was drawn to the hospitality industry and, for over ten years, has worked in various roles, including catering, event planning, and venue management. She and her fiancé live in Kirkwood and love being at the heart of the city in such a vibrant neighborhood.
Friends for nearly a decade, Randy and Katie came together in April 2020 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic to start The Tzedakah Project. Originally formed to fill an immediate need, the organization is now registered as a 501(c)3 non-profit and is working on launching its fourth initiative. As the global world around us changes, as will the projects and goals, while always remembering that “we are the company we keep.” Inspiration to begin the organization came from several places. However, the late Marcia Adler (Randy’s mother) provided immeasurable support and her passing in May 2020 led to the creation of the ongoing Tiger Lily Memorial.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
While there are always bumps in the road when starting a new company or project and it certainly isn’t ideal to start a non-profit during a global pandemic, we have been so pleased with the warm reception from our community and peers. Through strategic partners and relationships, we were able to expedite our national 501(c)(3) registration and successfully launched our website and the first project just a couple of weeks after inception. We’ve managed to maintain our momentum and are working on our fourth program in as many months and are extremely appreciative for the progress that has already been made. At this point, nearly 100% of our donations have been from individuals and an increase in funding would allow us to assist more people in the community. Currently, we are accepting “necessities” (cleaning products, personal hygiene, pet supplies, etc.) as well as financial contributions; all the information can be found on our website.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into The Tzedakah Project story. Tell us more about your organization.
Personally affected by the pandemic, both Randy and Katie felt a strong need to provide support for friends, neighbors, and others who previously never needed assistance. The primary goal of The Tzedakah Project was to serve an immediate need in our community and improve the lives of our program recipients and their families. As the world continues to change, so will the theme and concept of our projects.
While it can be translated as “charity,” the truer definition of tzedakah is “doing the right thing.” Through both financial and personal support, The Tzedakah Project creates internal programs and works with community groups that strive to improve the lives of individuals who are looking for a hand up rather than a handout.
The Tzedakah Project seeks to represent the two highest levels of tzedakah, as defined by the scholar Maimonides, which indicates that one gives willingly and anonymously and for the gift to make it unnecessary for the receiver to continue being dependent on others. Ultimately, the goal would be for the receiver to become able to provide tzedakah for someone else in need. Though the word “Tzedakah” comes from the Jewish faith, The Tzedakah Project is a non-denominational organization that strives to help all members of the community.
Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
While luck can be important, we prefer to put good energy out into the world and make positive choices for ourselves and those around us. In today’s fast-paced world, “timing is everything,” and we feel that the effort put forth is reflected in the success of our organization. And when all else fails… let the dice roll!
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June 27, 2020 | Shannon Dominy | https://cutt.ly/ajcarticle2
The Tzedakah Project is a new nonprofit from the folks behind Babs Midtown restaurant that is working to diminish the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic in Atlanta.
“The goal of The Tzedakah Project is to help support those in need so they are able to grow and thrive and ultimately give back to the community,” said Randy D. Adler, the group’s founder.
Through a series of programs, the Tzedakah Project is providing meals, employment and support to the community. Its first project, Babs on Bikes, provided meals for vulnerable communities and to the students who delivered those meals, employing students and medical residents that have had classes and rotations cut short due to the pandemic. Their second large undertaking, the Elephant Initiative, is aimed at supporting independent contractors out of work during the coronavirus pandemic.
“It can be extremely difficult for some people to ask for help, so we hope to contribute in a way that makes it easy and convenient and makes them still feel humanized,” said Adler.
The Tzedakah Project’s latest initiative is called the Tiger Lily Memorial, which will kick off this summer with the goal of creating a seasonal gardening program that provides community members with materials and education to grow their own food and herbs at home. The project was inspired by Adler’s mother, Marcia Adler, who died in May.
“There is a saying about ‘give a man a fish, he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime,’ and we want to take it one step further. Instead of just teaching him, we’d like to educate him on how to teach others so he can pass on the skill,” said Katie Lewis, executive director of the Tzedakah Project.
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Chef Deborah VanTrece and her team plan to hand out free meals to those in need from her Huff Road restaurant on Thursday, May 14. The event is part of the Elephant Initiative from The Tzedakah Project, founded by Babs Midtown owner Randy Adler in order to help communities in need during the pandemic. The Elephant Initiative provides meals to contractors, gig workers, sole proprietors, and others who now find themselves out of work due to COVID-19. Thursday’s event takes place at Twisted Soul Cookhouse & Pours from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. People must register online to arrange for a meal and pick-up time. A sold out event takes place May 12 at Elmyriachi in Kirkwood. New free meal event dates should be posted online later this week.
The Tzedakah Project, a new non-profit from the folks behind Babs Midtown, has launched its latest fundraiser—The Elephant Initiative.
The Elephant Initiative is aimed at supporting independent contractors out of work during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Elephants are one of the most majestic and loyal creatures in the animal kingdom,” according to a landing page for the initiative.
“With this initiative, we want to support and honor our out-of-work independent contractors and sole proprietors that don’t qualify for state unemployment benefits as they may be struggling during this time. We constantly rely on them to make us “look good” in everyday life; from the hairdressers and nail technicians to event staff (including florists, caterers, wedding planners, and tent installers) and more. We want to provide assistance to the behind the scenes teams are often left behind yet are truly essential in our lives.”
Babs Restaurant Owner Randy D Adler has launched The Tzedakah Project, a non-profit providing “tools and support to the community, enriching the lives of the recipients and encouraging them to practice the tenets of giving.”
The Tzedakah Project’s first initiative is “Babs on Bikes” which is designed to “assist multiple needs including employing students/medical residents that had classes and rotations cut short as well as providing healthy, sustainable food to local neighbors who are unable to leave their residence.”
The program also provides in-kind meals for healthcare workers, the elderly and those at risk for or suffering from COVID-19. As “payment,” the students receive complimentary meals for themselves as well as any tips earned from deliveries.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
April 3, 2020 | Ligaya Figueras | https://cutt.ly/ajcarticle
On April 1, his Midtown restaurant celebrated its 16th anniversary, but there were no customers present for a party. Still, the career chef was upbeat, clear in his vision for weathering the chaos caused by COVID-19.
Since the pandemic disrupted the restaurant’s operation, Adler’s customers and friends have reached out, asking how they can help. Using their financial donations, Adler launched the Tzedakah Project, finding ways to put people to work while simultaneously feeding folks in need and instilling a sense of community. He is in the midst of setting it up as a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit.
Tzedakah, he explained, is a Hebrew word meaning “justice” or “righteousness.” It often is translated as “charity,” but carries the sense of an ethical obligation. I believe that there needs to be a response of how you get people on their feet. Not just feed them,” Adler said. “Tzedakah is ‘giving quietly.’ This is not a GoFundMe. This is Go Fund Us.”
One of the first Tzedakah Project initiatives was to create Babs on Bikes. Babs always offered takeout, but never its own delivery. Now, three college students pedal Babs food to Midtown customers, as well as in-kind meals for the neighborhood elderly and medically at-risk, and health care workers. The students walk away with two Babs meals of their own, as well as any gratuities they collect.
“We’re thrilled to be supporting students with work and food and a sense of community,” Adler said.
Adler began adjusting his operation weeks ago. “I felt at the end of February that there was going to be this massive lurch. The signs were there,” he said. Adler began watching his cash flow closely, and started shifting his product inventory to include more items that would freeze well.
Much of Babs’ daily specialty menu, posted the night before on the restaurant’s Facebook page, falls into what Adler calls “freezer to fridge.” Soups like vegan vegetable and barley are portioned into quart containers and frozen. Matzo balls are packaged separately from the chicken soup, so that patrons either can reheat them together in a pot, or freeze them separately and use when needed. Chicken salad (delicious!) is packaged separately from the bun. Both can go in the freezer. Customers even can purchase eggs from Babs. What they’ll get are eggs that have been cracked, whipped, portioned into containers and frozen.
Plenty of items on the specials menu are in keeping with the restaurant’s focus as a breakfast-lunch-brunch spot. A recent menu included blueberry French toast with eggs, potato and bacon; quiche with shrimp and vegetables; and the Egg Slut — a brioche bun slathered with Sriracha mayonnaise, scrambled eggs and cheese, plus bacon or a sausage patty, for an upcharge. And, there are brunchy, bubbly cocktails to-go, like blood orange mimosas and bellinis.
The dessert lineup is not only filled with sweet treats, but also speaks to resourcefulness, such as a tiramisu made with pancake batter.
“When life gives you pancakes, make tiramisu,” Adler joked.
In all seriousness, Adler spoke of his gratitude for the generosity of the client base he has amassed at Babs, and in his 40-year culinary career, including time in the catering business. He’s proud that he was able to pay his 10-person staff their full wages through March 15. And, he’ll keep plugging ahead with his current three-person team.
“Every day is a new day, and uncharted water,” he said. “How are things? They’re great. They have to be.”