The Morning Stars

Dorothy Hong

Al Roker Grew up in a working class neighborhood of Queens, the eldest son of a New York City bus driver. His parents were very involved in local charities. "And we were expected to do the same thing," says Roker, 56, one of six kids -- three biological and three adopted children. "That's the way I was raised."

Says Today exec producer Jim Bell, 44: "He has not forgotten where he came from and considers himself to be the luckiest guy. He loves giving back."

Roker has given back and then some. For 10 years he has spearheaded Today's annual weeklong Lend a Hand tour, crisscrossing the U.S. in a truck filled with millions of dollars worth of supplies -- everything from food to clothes to cars are donated by businesses -- for needy charities. Lend a Hand also takes in cash donations, often from viewers who can give via the Today website. This year, the tour kicked off in Anchorage, Alaska, giving youth services charity AK Pride more than $1.8 million in donations. Subsequent stops included Houston, where Casa de Esperanza de los Ninos -- a home for children affected by abuse, neglect or HIV -- received $2.6 million in donations, and Birmingham, Ala., where American Idol champ Taylor Hicks helped Roker give $1.7 million to Community Kitchens. All told, Roker's team raised $9 million in donations and goods in 2011. The tour and the Today Toy Drive, in its 18th year this holiday season, are responsible for about 40 percent of NBC's charitable giving. Says Roker: "We're busy bees."           

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