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December 24, 2012 12:00 PM

One person can make a big difference.

That’s the message we hoped would inspire you to join us when we launched our exciting yearlong initiative PEOPLEFirst: Help Feed a Child. For 2012, PEOPLE partnered with the Louisville, Ky., nonprofit Blessings in a Backpack, which provides food-filled backpacks every Friday to help get hungry kids and families through the weekend. Throughout the year we’ve brought you stories of people stepping up to help, like Tama Clapper, a minister’s wife in Gilette, Wyo., who helps 600 children in her community, and brothers Harrison and Jason Gordon—ages 16 and 11 respectively—who launched a Blessings program that feeds 100 kids in Hackensack, N.J. We also shared the story of Melanie Ford and her 8-year-old son James, who were living in an Orlando motel after Melanie lost her job. After it ran, People reader Bob Gries, a Tampa businessman, gave Melanie a job in his customer-service center and is paying the first year’s rent on a home for them.

Taken together, these stories have provoked an extraordinary outpouring of generosity and sparked a wave of hands-on action. As the year comes to an end, PEOPLE readers have contributed some $440,000 to Blessings and launched new backpack programs in 122 schools funded by $615,000 in donations. That’s right: You, our readers, have raised more than $1 million to fight childhood hunger. “We’ve been able to reach so many more children,” says Nikki Grizzle, a spokeswoman for Blessings. “Programs that fed 25 kids now feed 100. There are millions of hungry children out there. We’re going to keep beating those numbers down one step at a time.”

This week PEOPLE brings you the story of two families at the Doris Miller Elementary School. Located near Naval Base San Diego, the school’s mostly military families are serving their country but struggling to make ends meet—and many wouldn’t be able to without the backpacks their kids bring home. We hope this story moves you to help, as the others have. You can donate a backpack, give just $80 to buy a year’s supply of food for one child, or adopt a school in your town. Go to blessingsinabackpack.org and follow the PEOPLEFirst buttons. And watch this space for an exciting announcement about our PEOPLEFirst initiative for 2013.

LARRY HACKETT, MANAGING EDITOR

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