In the fall of 2002, The New York Times ran a series of articles on poverty in the U.S. One article (The New York Times, September 29, 2002) described the town of Pembroke, Illinois, a community so poor that some houses had dirt floors and there were tires on roofs to keep them from blowing away. Pam Koner, a Westchester, New York mom and entrepreneur, read that article and felt compelled to help.
Koner contacted an outreach worker in Pembroke with the simple idea of linking families she knew with “more” to families with less, and was given the names of 17 of the neediest Pembroke families. She then convinced 16 friends and neighbors to join her, and they each began sending monthly boxes of food (and letters) to one of the Pembroke families. 17 families soon grew to 60… and after a flurry of media exposure (including coverage by CBS News, The New York Times, Oprah Magazine, People Magazine and Reader’s Digest), 60 families grew to over 900 linked families across the U.S.
After Hurricane Katrina, Koner started “In the Bag”, a donation program based on the same one-to-one Family-to-Family model, and linked over 1,000 displaced Katrina families to matching donor families. Donors shipped basic necessities like blankets, dishes and clothing to families who had lost almost everything.
Family-to-Family also made Xmas 2005 happen for Katrina families with a toy drive that yielded over 15,000 donated toys, wrapping paper and ribbon. The toys and wrapping paper were sent to selected sites in the Gulf area, so that Katrina parents could “shop” (no funds needed) for their own children, wrap the gifts themselves… and come Xmas morning the gifts were given by mom and dad, as if they were purchased. Family-to-Family has done a similar toy drive for its hunger relief families every Christmas since.
In the spring of 2008 Family-to-Family added a “cyber-sponsorship” program… a way for people to sponsor a family in need by signing up on-line on the F-to-F website. An automatic credit-card donation pays for 7 meals worth of food each month for a specific family in need. Cyber-sponsorship is a way for individuals who are not part of a donating chapter to sponsor a family, with the added benefit of allowing families to receive fresh fruits and vegetables with the donated funds. Donating and sponsored families exchange emails and letters.
Today Family-to-Family helps families in 22 U.S. communities, and is still run by Pam Koner and team, working out of the basement office of Koner’s Hastings-on-Hudson home.