Family-to-Family links well-off families to others in need
Pam Koner started a nonprofit group that helps families who want to aid less-fortunate families.
How can you describe someone who has changed the lives of thousands of people from the basement of her home?Skip to next paragraph
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It's difficult to say no to Pam Koner, say those who work with her: Her enthusiasm and drive are contagious.
Ms. Koner started her charity, Family-to-Family, in 2002 when she saw a newspaper article about Pembroke, Ill., which noted that 51 percent of families with children there were living below the poverty line.
She was shocked to read that the town had little in the way of infrastructure: no supermarket, no pharmacy, no bank. Many families lived in houses with dirt floors.
She immediately sprang into action and found families here in Hastings-on-Hudson, a small commuter village just 19 miles north of New York City, who wanted to help families in Pembroke. Soon food – canned vegetables, fruit, spaghetti sauce, tuna – was on its way.
Today Family-to-Family provides food to approximately 2,200 children and their families in 20 places around the United States. Some 400 volunteer families participate in 32 states. Many sign up at www.family-to-family.org.
Though the families who receive help from Family-to-Family are eligible for federal food stamps, the stamps are often spent before the last week of the month, forcing families to skip meals and go hungry, Koner says. This is when the food boxes are most needed: They can make the difference between eating and going without.
People are drawn to the program because it demands time and effort, Koner says, a deeper commitment than just a financial donation. "One common thing participating people have said is, 'I've been looking for something to do with my family that is not about writing a check," she says.
To date, Family-to-Family has supplied more than 1.2 million meals. Each month members across the US pack boxes filled with seven days' worth of nonperishable food items along with a letter to their sponsored family. The box is shipped to a volunteer in the receiving community, who then takes it to the family in need.
Lori Ratner of Stamford, Conn., has been a sponsor since 2004, when she read an article about Koner and Family-to-Family.
"For the past eight years, we have sponsored a wonderful family in Kermit, W.Va.," Ms. Ratner says. "These parents raised five children, and when a relative was unable to care for her two little girls, the family took the girls in [too] and has been raising them….
"Although they themselves were not in a very comfortable [financial] position, they still opened their home and hearts to these kids. I cannot begin to express how grateful I am to Family-to-Family. We have learned that what we may take for granted, something as simple as a jar of peanut butter, may help a family from going hungry."
Koner's work has gained the attention and appreciation of local leaders.