Sunday, December 2, 2012

Helping Families

It's December and for some people that means holidays, festivities, shopping, and eating a whole lot of food. For other families it means the added stress of trying to make things jolly and bright when just paying the bills and keeping food on the table is a challenge. I've found that no matter how little you have, there is always someone who has less than you and there is always something you can do to offer help or encouragement. At times it's our own lack of planning or focus on our busy life that gets in the way of helping others, but sometimes we aren't sure what would feel supportive and so we don't do anything. With that in mind here is a list of things you can this December, but keep in mind that these aren't seasonal ideas any more than peace, love and joy are seasonal ideals.

Food assistance only pays for food. Think of things that aren't food that people need and you have a bounty of ways to help: a case of toilet paper, tooth brushes, tooth paste, floss, shampoo and conditioner, shaving essentials, contact solution and household cleaners. It helps if you know the family well enough to know what brands they use or what chemicals and additives they avoid. While rummaging through the medicine cabinet is not encouraged, it doesn't hurt to make a mental note of what brand toothpaste and shampoo they have when you are at their house for a visit.

Pets are expensive, but pets are family, too. If you can find out what brands of feed they eat you can leave the furry, feathered and scaly family members a goody basket on the front porch. If you don't have a clue, consider a gift card to a nearby pet or feed store.

In today's world there are so many places to go and things to do, but for a family to go and do it can cost a week's worth of groceries to visit a museum or the zoo. Consider giving tickets to the movies, an event or concert. If you can afford more, a family membership can be enjoyed for the entire next year.

Offer to add someone to your cell phone plan. This is an awesome gift for a tween or teen, but could be helpful to adults as well.

Pay the utility bill, rent or mortgage for the month of December. This is one of my fantasies of things I will do when we have lots of money. Paying a large bill for someone frees up the money they would have spent on that bill to go towards other things. In some cases, paying a large bill for someone frees them from the stress of trying to figure out how the hell they are going to pay the bills that month.

Gift cards. Handing people money can feel awkward or too general. You want to help, but you'd like to meet a specific need or have the money go towards something fun. There are gift cards for just about everything these days and you can use them to gift $5 or $5,000.  

Even as an adult I believe in holiday magic. Deep inside there is the belief that opening my mailbox, front door or paypal account could reveal a gift that is unexpected and life changing. But more realistically, I love unexpected surprises, the thoughtful gift, the feeling that some one understands where we are at and wants to help. It may be winter squash left on my doorstep by a friend or a bag of groceries delivered with a hug. The warm fuzzy feeling that results is wonderful.

That warm fuzzy feeling isn't reserved for the recipient. Doing something nice for someone feels good. Giving to charities is fine, but giving to a specific individual or family tends to feel a lot more meaningful.  

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