Fighting hunger, one family at a time

Pam found herself drawn to an article about hunger in America. Accompanying the article was a photograph of a young girl, lying on a tattered mattress with a torn up plywood wall behind her, sucking on chicken bones.

“I looked at this and I knew I had to do something,” Pam remembered. “I spent the next 24 hours tracking down the writer from the Times and tracking down the pastor who was featured in the story. I made contact with the pastor and I said, ‘I want to help, what can I do?’ And, I’ll never forget this, he said: “I prayed for a miracle.”

“I said, ‘I’m not a miracle. I’m just an ordinary mom and I want to help.’”

Pam’s organization, Family-to-Family, allows families who have more to adopt families who have profoundly less. The [impoverished] families receive a monthly food allotment that arrives at the end of the month when their food stamps run out.

Once the group got set up, Pam had to figure out how to get the food from Hastings-on-Hudson, to Pembrook, Ill., which was 1800 miles away. So, she started sending emails to FedEx, UPS and DHL. The emails read simply, “Hi, I’m Pam Koner. I’m a mom. Here’s what I’m trying to do.”

“FedEx sent me an email, which I almost deleted because I thought that it was junk mail, and it said, “Hi Pam Koner, we’d love to help you, Lisa Daniel.” Pam recalls. “I jumped up with joy. I just couldn’t believe it.”

Family-to-Family shipped 17 boxes in November of 2002 and has slowly, but surely grown into a national hunger relief organization. But perhaps even more satisfying for Pam than this growth was the opportunity to meet her adopted family. She was especially excited to meet the mom, Lily.

“Lily’s son was sitting in front of a space heater, wrapped up in clothes playing a Game Boy, and there were the boxes I had sent over the last two months,” Pam said. “Her little daughter came out wearing my daughter’s red L.L. Bean jacket. And there was the vacuum cleaner and an old microwave I’d sent. “

For a moment Lily and Pam just looked at each other. Then they both walked out, hugged again, and cried.

Maybe Pam’s story has inspired you to make a difference; if so, here are some words of advice and encouragement to help you along the way.

1. “Believe in yourself.”

If you are interested in doing anything that involves creating something from nothing, which is basically what Pam did, you have to believe that you can make a difference. Believe that you can crash up against barriers and that you can crash through.

2. We, as women, know in our guts when things are valid. Trust your gut.

If someone out there feels they have a cause or an interest, or something that they want to affect, Pam has some unconventional advice to offer.

“Most people would tell you to go out and research it. I say, Go with your guts,” Pam declared. “We as women know in our hearts and in our guts when things are going right. Find something that’s really powerful for you to focus on, then start with baby steps, set achievable short term goals and talk to everyone you know.”

3. Stay focused on the possibilities not the limitations.

When struggling with something, whether it’s work, family or friends, Pam turns to this personal mantra: Stay conscious of the possibilities, not the limitations.

“When you feel the limitations of something, break through,” Pam said. “And if you can’t feel the possibilities, get out of the situation.”

Creating a community that helps other communities, she said, has made Pam feel less significant, but in a good way.

“When you do this work, you realize how your own self isn’t nearly as significant as the work you do,” she said. “This experience has changed how I perceive everything.”

Learn more about giving back from these helpful sites.

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

Families Unite
A nationwide nonprofit founded by Pam that’s committed to connecting families with more to families with less.

One Child At a Time
The Children’s Hunger Relief Fund works to provide safe drinking water and meals to impoverished children all over the world.

Donate, Advocate, Volunteer
America’s Second Harvest – the nation’s largest charitable hunger relief organization – distributes more than 2 billions of donated groceries a year. Get involved!

Find Your Purpose
Volunteer Match can pair you with causes that are close to your heart and close to your home.

Walking the Walk
Known, loved and feared for its ability to move the masses through grassroots efforts, MoveOn.org is committed to uniting people for political change, whether to elect a president or stop a proposed strip mall from stealing land from a public park.

Supporting my family with a home-based beauty business

Tara will tell you… she was cheap before cheap was in style. She enjoyed luxury salon treatments, but she didn’t enjoy their inflated prices.

Why was it that having healthy, soft locks should cost a car payment?

Tara felt there had to be an easy way to deep condition her hair the way they did at the salon in her own home. Of course she couldn’t bring in a salon size dryer, so she set out to find the right mix of materials that would create the same effect.

After finding the secret ingredient while watching a marathon race, she had 100 of her deep conditioning caps made and sold them to different salons and beauty shops in her city. An infomercial company saw the product and began to market it along with some shampoo.

That’s when her need for deep conditioning started to fill her need for some serious dough. Tara realized that she had a business on her hands. Something that would be able to make money for her family and herself.

“Once the infomercial was on the air and did fairly well, I realized that this work could go from the realm of a fun hobby, something to do in my spare time, to a real business,” she said.

Soon afterward Tara came up with her second invention.

“Ever since high school, I had always had the idea of putting nail polish in a pen, like a felt-tip marker,” she says, “I was working on an art project with my daughter, with poster board and pens, and the idea came back to me. That was my genesis for a manicure pen.”

Trusting in her ideas helped Tara become successful. Follow her pointers and you can be a successful inventor too–in due time. Inventions take patience.

1. Create a prototype. Nobody buys an idea.

It’s important to get your idea to the prototype stage. Find something that’s like the product, even though it might be in a completely different industry.

For example, Tara contacted the manufacturers of the pen that she used in her daughter’s art project, and while they couldn’t do cosmetics because they weren’t cosmetic-qualified, they sold her the pen parts that she used to create the first prototype of Manicure Magic.

2. Have your prototype priced out.

Take a look at the marketplace to determine a reasonable cost to create your product.

3. Ask yourself, “How much do I want to invest?”

It’s usually not expensive to get to the point of a prototype, so after that, you need to figure out where the manufacturing money is coming from, and how much of the product you want to produce initially.

4. Figure out where to sell it.

Could you sell it on the internet? Could you present it to one of the shopping channels and sell it that way? Could you take it just down the street to your local store and see if they would carry it? Since Tara’s product was a manicure pen, she knew that if she could demonstrate it and explain it, it would sell. That’s why QVC was the perfect way to launch her product.

If you’re interested in taking your product to a large manufacturer or a large retailer that you think would have an interest in it, find an agent or a consultant to help you get in the door.

5. Define success on your own terms.

“You have to define success for yourself,” said Tara. “You don’t have to be the next Martha Stewart to be successful. If your vision of success is just to supplement your family’s income, or just to make enough money to take a really nice vacation, or help pay for tuition for the kids, then you should be proud of that success.”

For those of you with a fascination for new inventions, there’s always something new at the Inventor Spot, a blog that targets new creations from the worlds of food, technology and fashion.

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

File It Under Toys
Carving a home office out of the playroom? Consider Home Based Working Moms.

Make the Jump
If you’re about to crash and burn from boredom at your job, try What Color Is Your Parachute, the book that’s been leading people to their passion for more than 40 years.

Smarter, Not Harder
Bust through the glass ceiling with the National Network for Women’s Employment.

It’s Magic!
Buy Tara Murphy’s Manicure Magic set, available at QVC.

Secrets for Building an Eco-Friendly Business

Even as a child, Summer was interested in saving the earth.

“Growing up, it was just my mom and me, and she instilled environmental awareness in me,” she said. “Even when I was really young, I’d knock on my neighbors’ doors and tell them to not use so many plastic bags.”

Summer carried her passion for the environment with her through college at UC Berkeley, where she majored in sociology and conservation and resource studies.

After graduation, Summer took a job as a 6th grade teacher. She loved teaching and the lifestyle that it afforded, but soon she found herself going through the motions a little too comfortably.

“I was busy all the time, grading papers constantly at coffee shops, and just living my life,” she said. “But at some point, I realized I had gotten away from those things that had been really important to me.”

As she concentrated her efforts more on reconnecting with her passion, she found she was spending a lot of her free time researching what she bought and what products were good for the earth. Especially when it came to buying clothes, it was difficult to shop responsibly.

“There was nothing I could wear to work. There was nothing I could wear out, going out to clubs or going out to dinner. Frankly, I couldn’t find anything I liked,” she said. “I decided to stop complaining about the fact that nobody had changed this and be the change, create my own resource.”

Summer is passionate about the environment because she cares about what happens in the future.

“Everything that I sell is certified organic, which means a third party comes in and certifies how it’s grown,” she said. “It’s also either domestically made by artisans who create their own wage, under U.S. labor laws, or it’s sourced through the fair trade federations. Every single product has a sort of certification that makes it definitely earth-friendly.”

Being able to help others make better decisions more easily is far more rewarding for Summer than she ever imagined it would be. She feels like she is living a life of purpose, that she is following the admonition on her favorite refrigerator magnet: Be the change you wish to see in the world.

“I feel really happy for what I’ve done,” she said. “I am proud of myself that I’ve really been true to what I believe in but have also made a livelihood in doing that, in doing something small to benefit the bigger picture.”

Check out Summer’s online store BTC Elements, it’s got everything from organic cotton tablecloths to recycled fleece winter coats.

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

Elements of Style
Summer’s online store BTC Elements includes everything from organic cotton tablecloths to recycled fleece winter coats.

Fair Trade, Woman-Made
An online boutique of handmade clothing, home goods and accessories created by women all over the world who are working toward economic security.

Green? Great!
Check out this comprehensive shopping blog that highlights eco-friendly apparel and goods from all over the web.

Mind Your Biz
At GreenBiz, the eco-enthusiast can learn how to succeed in business while being environmentally responsible.