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High school student serves up help for homeless

Updated: Jan 15, 2021

Emerson Leonaitis, a senior at North Atlanta High School with dreams of becoming a screenwriter, has discovered a way for Georgia’s film industry to help women in need.


“A few years ago, location scouts for the USA Network show “Satisfaction” came to our house and asked if they could film there,” Emerson says.  “Each day after lunch I noticed how much food the caterers threw away.  I suggested they give it to the homeless, but they told me legal restrictions prohibited that.  I said, give me the food and I’ll give it to the homeless.”

So she did.  The show, starring Matt Passmore and Stephanie Szostak, filmed in the Leonaitis home for two seasons. That’s a lot food.

“I did some research and found that individuals who gave food to charities don’t have the liability that a catering or film-production company would have,” Emerson says.  “I bought about 100 pans of all sizes and started going around to various filming locations to pick up leftovers.”  She named her charity “Hollywood Helping Hands.”

The beneficiary of Emerson’s work is My Sister’s House, a shelter for women and children run by the Atlanta Mission.

Some days she needs help, so her mom, Lorri Leonaitis, pitches in, often recruiting friends to join her.  Emerson pays all her own expenses for the project.  She earns that money from “I’d Eat That,” the catering company she started when she was 14. 

She has also worked with the pastry chef at Umi, a popular Japanese restaurant in Buckhead, an opportunity she called “a dream come true” for a passionate foodie.

But her long-range dream is a role in the film industry.  During the filming in her home, Emerson was able to participate in the television making process, standing in for the actors and actresses, “clapping the clapperboard for a few takes,” and interacting with the cast and crew.

That was fun, but her real goal is screenwriting.  She’s not yet written a full script, but has practiced on short stories and individual scenes.

A 4.0 student in the International Baccalaureate program, she is awaiting word on admission to the film program at the University of Southern California.  If admitted, she is already thinking about continuing the “Hollywood Helping Hands” in Hollywood.  With her record of charity and achievement, it’s a sure thing.



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