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 1,100 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 did the same thing for struggling families affected by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, linking up over 1,000 families, as well as: providing more than 860 “Welcome Home” boxes filled with nonperishable foods that helped restock kitchen cabinets of families that lost everything; providing air beds, heaters, pillows, bedding, warm clothing, small kitchen appliances, cell phones and more to affected families; providing 3,500 Sandy victims with a full Thanksgiving dinner; and coordinating a toy drive that yielded over 2,000 holiday toys for hurricane affected children at four schools.
In 2016, working with groups of middle and high school students as well as a personal care product company, Family-to-Family helped provide close to 1,000 “bath-packs” for impoverished Flint children to take home to their families, each consisting of a string back-pack filled with portable soap, soap dish, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, toothpaste and toothbrush.
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 36 U.S. communities, and is still run by Pam Koner and team, working out of a storefront office in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY.