Time, effort often best gift to help those in need

“Into each life some rain must fall,” said Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. We all know someone whose “some rain” looks more like a monsoon than a light sprinkle. Your best friend loses his job. Your neighbor’s mother passes away. There’s a dreadful diagnosis, a car wreck and a major appliance blow up — sometimes in one week.

Most of us want to help those we know when in need but walk a difficult tightrope of knowing what to do, how much to do and when to do it. Living a frugal life and engaging in active compassion can seem like opposites, but they don’t have to be.

Meet the real need

When those you love suffer great tragedy or go through a time of financial need, you must be sure that you aren’t just throwing money, time or stuff at a problem. For instance, someone who has been delivered a cancer diagnosis may be on a strict diet and your prize-winning sugar cream pie, while delicious, might be strictly off limits for medical reasons. The majority of us want to jump to action, and we default to what we would want to receive in a time of crisis instead of truly considering what the recipient requires.

Ask — if you’re close

Some sweet souls flutter toward tragedy like moths to a flame. Well meaning, compassionate people can become leeches on people they barely know.

When encountering someone who needs help, be aware of your proximity of relationship. This does not mean you don’t get the opportunity to help, it just means that you call a mutual friend or family member and ask what you can do rather than clogging someone’s voicemail or inbox who can barely think because of grief or pain.

If you do have a close relationship, then ask your loved one how best you can help. More than likely, the reply will be “We’re fine” or “We’re OK.” So brainstorm three specific ways you could help (mow their lawn, bring a meal, watch their children) and offer those strategies.

Rally the troops

With online platforms such as GoFundMe.com and YouCaring.com, it has never been easier to encourage others to get in on the action of encouraging others while meeting their physical needs. Even if you resort to getting on the horn and calling friends and neighbors, two are better than one and can achieve greater good while relieving suffering together.

You can certainly raise money, but you also can use websites such as MealTrain.com, MealBaby.com or TakeThemAMeal.com to organize feeding a family for a season. You work with the family to sort out allergies, likes or dislikes, medical requirements, a range of dates, address and the best time to deliver. The website then builds a calendar where participants can choose dates most convenient for their schedule.

Give anonymously

Sometimes it’s better to simply drop an envelope with cash (even $5 can make a difference) or a grocery store gift card in someone’s mailbox. You don’t have to get credit for choosing to do the right thing. The gratifying feeling in and of itself is reward enough.

Take care of the kids

Our parents never gave us any money to put toward our fight of paying off more than $127,000 in debt. What they did do was lavish our kids with love. Whether it was buying an expensive box of cereal we couldn’t afford or offering to watch the kids so we could have more time to work, their love took the form of action. Consider any children in the household and brainstorm what ways you could bless a family by meeting their needs or even distracting them for a short period of time.

Give resources

Several times of year, I get emails from dear grannies who have devoted their lives to cherishing their families. However, occasionally these same sweet women (and sometimes men), have been taken advantage of. It’s always a case-by-case situation, but there are times when giving money can be more of a hindrance than help. If you still want to give something to your friend or family member, consider giving a book, class or other resource that they could not otherwise afford or might not know would be of great assistance.