The differences are striking. Median household income in one place exceeds $83,000; in the other, it falls just short of $10,000. The average house is valued at $402,100 in one, while houses in the other are often dilapidated shacks with dirt floors and no running water.

Residents in one place envision endless possibilities, while lack of jobs, child care and transportation and geographic isolation seem to block all possibilities for the others.

Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., and Pembroke Township, Ill., are miles apart both geographically and economically. But that has begun to change, thanks to the efforts of a Hastings woman who decided she simply had to do something.

A September 29, 2002, New York Times article about Pembroke captured Pamela Kroner’s attention, and her heart. “I just read this story that moved me in such a significant way, I have to do something,” she announced to her family.

She immediately had an idea that involved pairing families in the two locations. That very morning, a series of phone calls led her to Lisa and John Dyson, pastors of a Pembroke church who were already involved in various ministries, including a food pantry.

The Pembroke food pantry consistently ran out of food, particularly the last week of each month, the Dysons told her.

“How about if I find a family in my community to adopt a family in yours and we create family-to-family?” Kroner asked the Dysons.

From that conversation grew Family-to-Family, a community based, tax-exempt, not-for-profit hunger relief program for profoundly poor and hungry families in the United States. It connects “families with more with families who have less,” according to the organization’s Web site.

Participating families shop for, pack and send a carton of basic, nonperishable food items to their adopted family each month. In addition, other sponsors in the one community send clothing, books, medicine and other helpful resources to a central location in the other community for distribution.

Grateful residents of Pembroke have now received more than 10 tons of food. Other communities across the country are following Hastings-on-Hudson’s model and pairing with families in other locations, thanks in part to segments on the CBS “Early Show” and ABC’s “Good Morning America” and features in People Magazine and O, The Oprah Magazine.

The connections between families are quite personal. One of the commitments participating families make is to exchange letters. They are neighbors, although they may never meet.
“It expands the border. You know, who’s my neighbor?” according to Lisa Dyson. “I have a neighbor that’s way on the other side of the country and I think that’s beautiful.”

We’re approaching that time of year when Baptists tend make news headlines, more often than not about disagreements. One of the tragedies of such disagreements is their tendency to distract us from priorities like serving others.

When some of Jesus’ first disciples engaged in a senseless argument over who was the greatest, Jesus quickly redefined greatness for them in kingdom terms and reminded them of what discipleship is really all about. The truly great people, Jesus said, are those who are willing to serve the least important and most-often ignored.

While Jesus engaged in thoughtful dialogue with those who disagreed with him, he never let that keep him from his priorities. Neither should we.

Jan Turrentine is managing editor of Acacia Resources.

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