boy reading a book

Feeding Hungry Minds

For families struggling to put food on the table, books are an unaffordable luxury. But your family or your child’s classroom can help through a literacy project.

When Pam Koner founded the nonprofit Family-to-Family in 2003, she had a vision: fight hunger by connecting families fortunate enough to have “more” with those in need. To date, this grassroots antipoverty group has supplied more than 1.5 million meals to needy kids and adults in 38 states—and is satisfying not just physical hunger but also hungry minds through the gift of books.  

“A New York TV network did a story about Family-to-Family and followed a box of groceries from a donor in New York to a family they were sponsoring and linked to in Illinois. It was amazing for me as I watched the little girls in the family rip open the food box and find two big beautiful picture books along with the groceries,” Koner says. “The joy and excitement on their faces was profound for me to see and that led us to branch out in a whole and exciting direction, adding programs that ‘help feed hungry young minds.’"

Today, Family-to-Family gives kids, adults, families, and classrooms many ways to get the excitement of the written word into the hands of others. Per Koner, “We're thrilled that we have been able to get more than 10,000 new and gently-used books into the hands of kids and adults—some are even new readers,” Koner says. “Our programs get donors and recipients involved in a direct way, similar to our hunger relief model. The idea is really to ‘share our bounty’ when we can. And whether the gift is a book, food, or a tooth brush, we try to make it feel good for both the donor and the recipient.”

Family-to-Family’s core food program currently delivers groceries to provide for seven to 10 meals to families of five across the U.S. A sponsoring family supports the effort by agreeing to pay $31 a month for the needed food and to provide essentials such as toothpaste, shampoo, and toilet paper, gently used books, and letters or e-mails to foster a bond. (Donors can also share a family to help at $15 a month.) But it’s not the only way to give. The group has helped with disaster relief (including the provision of books) after a 1.3 mile-wide tornado decimated sections of Moore, Oklahoma, and also after Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, and other natural disasters. “We've had donors send thousands of books to help replenish classrooms in Moore over the last few months ... and we're still going,” Koner says. “Some schools there need everything.”

Family-to-Family offers a wide variety of projects that give book lovers—groups and individuals—a way to share their passion in ways that make a difference.

  • One Book at a Time links a donor family with one child living in poverty. The donor family picks and mails one book to the child each month for a year.
  • Class-to-Class links classrooms. Each child with the means to participate chooses a gently used book from his home library to share with a “book pal” in the other class. Books are sent, and letters are exchanged. The receiving class sends a craft project as a gift to the class sending books.
  • A Dictionary in Every Home asks donors to send a different nonfiction reference book to a family or to a community each month.
  • Birthday Giving Project and Giving Parties are two hands-on programs that encourage empathy and generosity. Kids pack birthday gifts (such as books) and party goods into individually decorated shoe boxes to send to children living in poverty.

For more information, check out family-to-family.org.