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.

The truth about school lunches

Right now, only about two percent of American children have diets that are in line with the U.S. dietary guidelines. For Amie, this is unacceptable.

As the executive director of the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food, Amie works to eliminate the unhealthy junk foods in schools and to create students who are health and nutrition literate. The non-profit she runs works to improve foods in schools by working with people who have a direct impact on children’s diets: food service directors, school nurses and parent-teacher organizations.

“Good nutrition is something I care passionately about, especially for children,” Amie said. “Since food preferences are developed early in life, schools should be practicing the good nutrition that they teach. In reality, the whole school food environment is completely inconsistent with what we teach kids about good nutrition.”

The average that schools pay for food is $0.90 for lunch and maybe $0.60 for breakfast. Because the meals have to have a number of components, it’s almost impossible to do something with good quality food for that amount of money. As a result, schools have to depend on commodity foods, which are supplied for free by the federal government. These include some of the worst foods, like cheeseburgers, deep-fried mozzarella sticks, chicken nuggets and pepperoni pizza.

Amie got lots of tips on how to get your little ones excited about food that’s good for them.

Have kids grow food in a garden.
Even if you don’t have access to a garden, grow sprouts in a jar, or if you have a window, grow some herbs on the windowsill. Getting kids to grow food or visit farms where they grow food is really fantastic.

Make healthy substitutions for typical lunchtime foods.
If you make a sandwich, make it on whole grain bread. The coalition recommends peanut butters that don’t have any trans-fats in them.

“You can also use a dip like hummus,” Amie said. “Kids love hummus. You can use it in a sandwich or as a dip for sliced veggies.

“A vegetable sushi made with short grain brown rice is also a hit with kids. Most people think that sushi means raw fish, but in fact, sushi means vinegar rice. You can take all kinds of cut up vegetables — shredded carrots, slices of avocado, slices of cucumber, maybe some tofu – and have a nutritious, delicious lunch.”

Have special treats, but limit them to special occasions.
Amie said that you don’t have to deprive your child of special treats; you just have to make sure they are occasional. The reason there is an obesity epidemic in our country is that people eat “special” treats — like soda, cookies and ice cream — multiple times a day. And if you want to extend a healthy attitude to treat time, experiment with soy ice creams, which are delicious and much lower fat than regular ice cream.

Be a good example.
One of the biggest problems is the adults who say they won’t eat healthy. The fact is kids won’t starve themselves if you don’t make unhealthy foods available; eventually, they’ll eat what you give them.

Hungry for more suggestions? Check out these other resources.

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

Be Healthy, Live Well
A nonprofit organization dedicated to educating people on the best foods for your body and the best ways to prepare them.

Whole Grain Nation
Test your whole grain IQ and figure out how much more you should be eating at Whole Grain Nation.

The New Pyramid Plan
The food pyramid as we know it is forever gone. Check out My Pyramid, where you can customize a balanced diet of grains, fruits, veggies and proteins that works for you!