So, something has just happened to a friend or family member where your assistance might be extremely useful. This could be a time for joy or a time for weeping. It could be a birth, a death, a wedding, a divorce, or any of a variety of big, life-changing events. It’s an opportunity to show that you care and to actually meet material, social, psychological, and spiritual needs. Unfortunately, gestures to “show that you care” sometimes end up creating work for the object of your benevolence and, tragically, might show that you don’t really care and are just acting out of obligation. So, what can you do to help? A lot of people try to help by providing food. Here are a few key thoughts that can improve your giving:
1. If you give someone food, give them the containers, too. The people you are trying to help have enough on their hands without having to worry about making sure individual dishes are returned to their proper owners. Even if you don’t give away disposables, give away cheap plastic dishes and containers that you don’t need back. Plastic containers are almost trivially cheap, and the dollar you would have to spend on a container is probably less than you (or your friend) would spend in gas to make sure the container is returned properly.
2. Give food that’s easy to eat. Times of crisis aren’t the times to try out complex recipes or to deviate from the norm too much. Some salads are great, as are casseroles of the right kind. A tray of cold cuts, a loaf of bread, and a bottle of mustard is often the best gift you can give. It’s simple, there’s a lot of variety, and it doesn’t take time to prepare. Try to stick to foods that are easy to fix and that most people like. Spaghetti? Sure. Braised tuna-turnip-tarragon casserole? Maybe not.
3. Give food that’s easy to serve. Can it be served straight from the container, dipped onto a plate, or easily served between two slices of bread? Then it’s a go.
Give food that’s easy to store. Can it be refrigerated or frozen and eaten later? Great! Can it be eaten after sitting out at room temperature all night? Even better!
4. Participate meaningfully in your friends’ lives. I can’t say enough about this. In the last decade, I’ve experienced the depth of tragedy (the death of my mother) and the height of joy (the births of my children). In all cases, people reached out to my family in ways that were deep and meaningful. When my mother died, some of our friends came to Birmingham from St. Louis to attend the visitation and the funeral. A couple that made it to the visitation took my wife and me out to dinner afterward and then showed us their honeymoon pictures. It had been a grueling day, and I was emotionally spent. This was a chance to relax with friends, to be ministered to, and to celebrate something joyous (their wedding) even during a very dark time. That some of our best friends were there to take care of us in an hour of acute need was very, very touching.
Our older son was born in July, 2008. Our Sunday School class took care of us by providing dinners, and the time we got to spend breaking bread with these friends was enjoyable, relaxing, and touching.
The main lesson in these points is not to provide hard-and-fast guidelines for helping friends, nor is it to excuse ingratitude. Rather, it is supposed to be an exercise in conscientious charity. When you want to help people, make sure you actually help them. Try not to give them extra stuff to worry about during a trying time by burdening them with added responsibility.