In 2002, Pam Koner founded an organization that matched families in need with people willing to buy them a week's worth of food plus one essential item, such as winter gloves. Family-to-Family started with a poor area in Pembroke, Ill.
But then the recession hit. As layoffs began to plague Koner's middle class-community in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., the food pantry started to dwindle. No one knew where to turn. So she turned her organizing efforts to her own town.
"You just never think it'll be your backyard," Koner says. "But in this environment, everything you think you know goes out the window."
Since April, Koner was named one of CNN Heroes of the Year, and she received an outpouring of offers to help -- and more families in need. Family-to-Family has helped 100 more households in need -- for a total of 400.
One woman, Kim, called to say her husband was an out-of-work auto worker and their family of eight was struggling with no end in sight.
The call inspired Koner to create a new chapter in Kim's hometown of Flint, Mich., and three other U.S. cities, for a total of 13. Koner is also launching a slew of local projects in Hastings, such as a Crocs shoe drive.
Koner does all this while continuing her full-time job: running four childcare businesses. She is always looking for volunteers and hopes to create a searchable database so sponsors can choose their own families.
"We can't fix all of the sadness in the world, but we're trying to give people a partial solution," Koner says. "We give them a fishing rod instead of a fish."
NEXT: Mike Heritage