August 06, 2012 12:00 PM

Once again we’re a nation in mourning. The tragedy in Aurora, Colo., in which a deranged gunman killed 12 people and destroyed countless lives, can leave us feeling powerless. But we have enormous power to make a difference. Just ask Melanie and James Ford.

In our June 18 issue, we told the story of Melanie and her 8-year-old son James. After losing her job as a customer-service rep nine months earlier, Melanie had been forced to move her family into a motel room on a dicey strip in Orlando. James, an A student taking classes for the gifted, brought home food provided by Blessings in a Backpack, a Louisville, Ky.-based nonprofit and PEOPLE’s partner in a yearlong initiative, PEOPLE First: Help Feed a Child.

The story provoked an outpouring of generosity from our readers, who have pledged roughly $350,000 to Blessings since PEOPLE First launched. Readers also reached out to Melanie and James, sending checks, gifts, cards, sneakers and books. One, Bob Gries, changed their lives. “When I [read the story and] looked into that little boy’s eyes, it broke my heart,” says Gries, an investment-fund manager in Tampa. He offered Melanie a job in his customer-service center, found and furnished a home for her in Pinellas Park, Fla., and, with some help from an anonymous donor, is paying her first year’s rent.

On July 3 Melanie and her six boys (three had been living with relatives since she lost her home) moved into the four-bedroom house. Gries, says a tearful Melanie, who starts work this month, “is an angel. I’m grateful to the one hundredth power.” Says James, who hopes to become a lawyer: “In the motel I heard gunshots. Here it’s quiet. I feel protected.”

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 and follow the PEOPLE First buttons.