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.
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"Pam is so inspirational," says Paul Feiner, the town supervisor of nearby Greenburgh, N.Y. "I was a county legislator [and am] a big admirer of her work. She does a lot of good for people around the country.... She is so special and works very hard. She has such leadership qualities and is an example for all."Skip to next paragraph
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Adds Peter Swiderski, the mayor of Hastings-on-Hudson: "I have a huge affection for Pam, both for her and her ambition to do good. She never settled for one project. It has always evolved. She executes it all successfully.
"She has the ability to mobilize and manage efforts, punching way beyond her class. No one can believe one person has had such an effect. She's quite extraordinary."
Koner also conducts a giving program for elementary school children called Kids Can! The students and their families collect food items and take them to the school.
"With Kids Can! the idea was to localize our giving so schools could take on local food pantries, each grade for a month at a time," Koner says. "The beauty of this is that the school has a relationship with the pantry. They can supply what is needed, not what they think might be needed. There is wonderful interplay between the school and the students."
Koner is always thinking about new ways to give. Recently she began a shoe drive, collecting thousands of pairs of shoes for children in the poorest areas of the US.
"When I started this, I was floored by the generosity of people in this country," she says. "Many of the original participants are just middle Americans."
Even in the midst of the current economic downturn, with many people out of work, Family-to-Family has lost few donors.
"So many people have sacrificed things and budgeted us into their own budgets," Koner says. "People have lost jobs and had to scale back, and some have said they might have to stop supporting their families, but usually they have found a way to continue."
In another new program, Giving Works!, kids in Hastings-on-Hudson and other communities pack up gently used books and send them to a school or youth center in a less-advantaged town. Kids in that community then package the books in individual backpacks, which have also been donated, and take them to other kids. Koner says this teaches children who have only known going without how to give something themselves.
"Giving Works! enables poor children to be givers. It's profound, the dignity it creates. This is empowering and can be life changing," she says. "Food programs are donor dependent. If a donor stops, then we have to replace that donor." Books are easier to find than donors, she says.
Schools also take part in The Travelling Journal, which provides a way for students to communicate with their less-fortunate peers. The children write and draw in a shared journal that goes back and forth between the schools.
Family-to-Family's annual drives begin in February with the Children's PJ Drive, a Valentine's Day activity that collects pajamas and blankets for kids. A July Backpack and School Supplies Drive helps families struggling to pay for back-to-school items. A Thanksgiving Turkey Drive purchases turkeys for needy families. And a Holiday Toy Drive gives donated toys and wrapping paper to parents in need, who choose gifts for their kids and wrap them themselves.
Employees at stores such as A&P and Wal-Mart devote their free time so that the sponsored families will receive what they need.