Noble idea, she realized, but not so easy for a nonprofit with no budget - until a friend suggested she turn to Facebook.
Social media turned out to be quite the accelerant.
Around the same time, Leary was starting to think about how to narrow some of the holes in the health-care safety net that Pete Angevine was falling through.
He was 24 and had just returned to Temple in 2007 after a turn as a professional drummer. A woman had told him his eyes looked yellow, which he knew was not a compliment.
His mother had recently had a stroke. His jaundice and lethargy, he figured, were just depression. When he felt no better after a few weeks, he went to his doctor, who was just as stumped.
Right after Thanksgiving, Angevine fell down the steps of his apartment, and when he looked at his ankles, they were as thick as his neck. He raced to the ER at Thomas Jefferson University, suffering from acute liver failure.
"I basically came out five weeks later with someone else's liver."
Twice afterward he was hospitalized when his body began rejecting the new organ. In April, doctors had to reconstruct his collapsed biliary duct. By then he was working as the office manager for the city's Mural Arts Program and had to take a five-week unpaid leave.
He had insurance through the city and bought a $6,500-a-year supplemental plan. But for the rest of his life he will have to take a cocktail of medications - right now he swallows 14 different pills a day. They cost him $300 a month out of pocket.
When Leary learned of Angevine's plight through one of her board members over the summer, she knew she had found a worthy first candidate for her nonprofit, called Sink or Swim Philadelphia.
In September, she started putting the word out across Facebook. In a video she explains her motivation: "I am a firm believer that if you have it, share it - whether it be food, money, time, a roof for a wayward friend or animal."
Potential beneficiaries sign paperwork allowing Leary, 33, to pore through their finances and prove their need. Recipients of donations never see the money raised - it goes straight to the pharmacy or medical providers.
She felt a reasonable goal would be to pay Angevine's bills for one month. She hit her mark in three days. Four times since then she has upped her sights. As of Friday, 45 people had contributed a total of $1,250 to help him.
Angevine, now 28, said he was floored by what strangers had done for him and overwhelmed by his turn of fortune. Two weeks ago, he got married. Last week, he decided to leave his job and devote all his time to expanding a gourmet ice cream business he helped launch this summer, Little Baby's.
"I feel like I do a pretty good job of not letting my health stuff keep me down emotionally," he said. "If I didn't, I'd be really far down. Now, this whole show of human generosity is pretty uplifting."
Leary, meanwhile, is busy lining up November's recipient. With about one in six Pennsylvanians uninsured, isn't she worried about being overwhelmed?
"Overwhelmed?" she asked cheerfully. "I'm always overwhelmed."
Contact columnist Daniel Rubin at 215-854-5917, firstname.lastname@example.org,
or @danielrubin on Twitter. Read his blog at philly.com/blinq.
For more information, go to http://www.facebook.com/pages/Sink-or-Swim-Philadelphia/116398065104691