After I turned in my last article, I thought of so many other instances of how my community pays big dividends:
- We got a 50-pound bag of free flour when a warehouse had a fire which slightly damaged the packaging
- At an auction, an acquaintance wanted a single item, but she had to buy the whole box to get it. Inside the box was a bag of clothespins that I'd been looking for. I offered her a dollar, but she just gave them to me.
- A pig farmer in the neighborhood called the other night: Did we want one of the pigs he couldn't sell? We just had to pay the butchering fee, but the meat was free. Next week, I'll be bringing home the bacon.
- When we had our foster son, we borrowed nearly everything. We are also in the process of adopting two kids. One friend, wanting to help, gave me a tub of clothes for our daughter.
- Someone gave us a twin mattress, but we didn't need it so we passed it on.
I got an email this afternoon from a friend who wanted old, wooden boxes. She offered to buy them, or trade them for baked goods or manual labor. She must have been feeling really desperate, because she said she would even do some ironing. I've been storing one of those boxes in my garage that I rescued from the trash. I would like to ask for some wall-painting assistance, but if the timing doesn't work out, I'll probably just give it to her.
I've also been the recipient. We don't drink much coffee at our house, but when we have a need, Mr. Coffee perks up to fulfill it. The coffeemaker was one of the things my husband brought to the marriage, so I'm not exactly sure how old it is. But it's old enough to be simple (you know, no programmable anything). I like it. That's why I was disappointed when I broke the coffeepot. As I said, we don't drink a lot of coffee. Which means, if you read between the lines, I didn't want to spend a lot of money on a new one. Besides that, the guts of Mr. Coffee worked just fine.
One of my friends volunteers at an intake center for household items and clothes that get sorted and then given to people in the community or sent on to other areas of the country/world.
“Hey,” I said. “You probably think I am crazy, but I'm looking for the coffeepot mate to my Mr. Coffee machine. If you happen to get a lone coffeepot, can I have it?”
I expected to limp along, coffee-less, for months, but she found one the next day. It's not an exact fit which means we have to wait until the coffeepot is full before we move it. I like this story for a couple reasons:
First, according to mrcoffee.com, a similar coffeepot – excuse me, decanter – replacement would cost me $15.99. Since my particular model is no longer offered, it probably wouldn't work as well as the one we have (which doesn't work as well as the one I broke, but c'est la vie).
And second, besides saving money, I'm tickled that two useless things are useful when used together. My friend was happy to help, and I appreciated her work. Once again, we worked together.
The real benefit of community
All these things are minor, compared to how my community has changed my life.
- This April, we had three hours' notice before we brought our foster son home from the hospital. Within five minutes of texting our news, I had 10 people offering to pick up diapers, formula, blankets, clothes, or anything else I needed.
- In the next few months, we will be traveling internationally to get our two adopted children. I have been inundated with offers to help. Clothes? Stuff to entertain the kids on the flight home? Meals in the freezer?
- Three years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer. People brought me food as I recuperated from surgery.
I appreciated all these things. But the biggest thing happened over a decade ago.
When I was 18 years old, my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
We didn't ask for help. But then again, we didn't need to.
I, a bewildered teenager, watched the kindness and compassion of those around me. They brought us meals. They helped with laundry. One friend organized a schedule of volunteers to take my dad to his daily radiation therapy appointments, two hours away.
But it didn't stop there. My father was a farmer. The year of his cancer diagnosis, he planted the crops, but by the time harvest time rolled around, he was physically unable to work at all. Our family's entire annual income was literally in the field. Someone found enough volunteers to not only harvest his crops, but clean all the equipment at the completion of the harvest season. They were busy with their own lives, but not too busy to put in long hours for someone else.
After he died, trusted men from our community developed relationships with my brothers that have continued to this day. In fact, when my brother was married a few weeks ago, one of those men conducted the ceremony.
Those acts of kindness made such an impression on me that I'm crying as I write this many years later. The magnitude of what was done for my family is incredible. I can't repay these things. I don't even know who some of those people were.
What I can do is help someone else. And I hope you understand that when I see someone in need, I don't help them because of my debt to my community. Not really. I help them because out of my gratitude that someone did it for me.
Saving me $15.99 by finding me a coffeepot saves me some money. And that's nice. But when you're down and someone gives you a hand to pull you up? That's priceless.
Lisa Aberle is a college professor by day and a freelance writer by night. Always an aspiring writer with an interest in money, she once ironically misspelled “mortgage” during a spelling bee. Most of her current adventures take place on the four-acre mini-farm she shares with her husband in the rural Midwest (where she writes with gel pens whenever possible).