History of Family-to-Family

Father and two daughters opening box of food

In the fall of 2005 I took a trip to visit "my family"...a family I'd never actually met, but who I had been sharing my life with for the last 3 years...Walter and Lily D. and their 5 kids.

Driving up to their trailer in rural southern Illinois, I was about to experience what would turn out to be one of the most powerful afternoons of my life.

Every month for the past 3 years, my girls and I had been shopping, boxing up and sending groceries to Walter and Lily’s family so they would have enough food to get them through the end of the month, when their food stamps were spent and the local food pantry pretty empty. Every month, Olivia, Chloe and I packed our box up...the girls drew pictures, I included a chatty letter, and we sealed our box up with good wishes. 

As my car stopped in front of their home, Lily ran out to greet me with her arms wide open -- ready for what would be the bear hug of a lifetime for me! We had been writing each other for 3 years, sharing our children's progress, sharing their stories, sharing our own stories. Two moms...different in so many ways, and yet so the same. We hugged...we cried... and then she asked me in to meet her husband and kids.

I knew Lily and her family struggled to get by, but what I saw left me speechless. A single bare hanging light bulb lit the main room. There were no cupboards in the kitchen area.  Laundry was hanging to dry across the room.  And there in the corner, on the floor, was an open box with what was left of my recently bought groceries, the box I had shipped from my home to hers. My daughter Chloe's now too small winter coat spilled out of another box I had sent...the dishtowels I had packed and passed along hung to dry... our lives, blended in a strange and moving way.

How did this all come to be?

Three years earlier my two young daughters and I were enjoying a cozy Sunday morning....me reading the Sunday paper, and the girls giggling and playing, bellies full from their favorite weekend breakfast treat - chocolate chip and banana pancakes. 

The day was about to unfold in a way I could never have expected, and as I look back....I can't help but feel there was something magical about what happened.

I remember the exact moment my eye caught a picture. It was one of those moments, the sort of instant that can change your life if you grab it.

It was a photograph on the front page of the New York Times, of a young girl lying on a bare and dirty mattress in what looked like a broken-down shack in a third world country, eating a plate of plain dry pasta. She looked so terribly poor and un-cared for...the room she was in, barren, and the walls paper thin and torn. What country was this, I thought...where was she? I scanned down to read the caption. This was no third world country. This was Pembroke, Illinois.

I don't quite understand what happened next....but I do know that I was on a mission from that moment forward to find out who this girl was and how I could help her and her family.

Without any plan to start an organization AT ALL, and with no real skills or experience, I recruited friends and neighbors to join me connecting with a local community partner who would identify families we could help. I matched 17 families in my community with 17 families in Pembroke and on Dec, 13, 2002 we started sending each of our new families monthly boxes of groceries.. And before long, families eager to give to others in a direct way sought me out from across the country. This simple idea that a family with "more" could reach out directly and "share their bounty" with a family with "less" struck a chord, big time!

What began as an effort to help one child in one family blossomed into a whole big organization I head up today, helping thousands of moms/dads/grandparents and kids “one family at a time”.

But there are still millions to help, millions in need!  So I hope your family will consider joining “our family”, sharing your bounty with some of our nation’s most vulnerable. Share your thoughts?

Email me: pkoner@family-to-family.org