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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 Koner holds an armload of gently used books to be mailed to children in a less-advantaged town through her Giving Works! program.

Ann Hermes/Staff

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How can you describe someone who has changed the lives of thousands of people from the basement of her home?

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.

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