Beyond money: How my community saves me, part two

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.

Serendipitous swapping

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.

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AMW
AMW
7 years ago

I have enjoyed both of your posts. Sometimes these situations are money saving and sometimes the simplest little act of kindness can be sanity saving. Just when you’re ready to go over the edge, someone just does the littlest thing and gives you enough relief/hope/energy to keep moving!

William @ Drop Dead Money
William @ Drop Dead Money
7 years ago
Reply to  AMW

Right on! The underlying foundation is old fashioned relationship. In modern urban settings this is not as common as we probably would like. We’re fortunate in our little corner of suburbia: we bought the house with a gate in the back fence that leads to two neighbors, with whom we’ve become good friends. In the late summer all manner of urban produce changes hands through the gate: zucchini, tomatoes, squashes and one year even freshly picked peas. And, urban being urban, we have “Costco splits” — splitting all those things Costco sells with a minimum quantity of 30 boxes or… Read more »

Lisa Aberle
Lisa Aberle
7 years ago

I love the urban version of this.

Jon @ MoneySmartGuides
Jon @ MoneySmartGuides
7 years ago

I enjoy helping out other selflessly as well. I get that warm fuzzy feeling inside that could never be replicated with a purchased gift.

justin@thefrugalpath
7 years ago

I’m glad to hear that in our world of texting and profits that people are willing to help out. I especially love the coffee pot story. If most people broke a coffee pot I’m sure they wouldn’t even try to replace it. They’d just get rid of the whole machine and get a new matching set. The only story of community I can think of atm is around Christmas time ten years ago my brother and I were at the mall. A lady saw my brother playing with this little toy. She bought one, waited for us the leave the… Read more »

TB at BlueCollarWorkman
TB at BlueCollarWorkman
7 years ago

And there’s freecycle in a lot of cities, where you get and give stuff for free. When there’s no money exchanging hands, it’s pretty cool how you can become friends with people and just do something becuase it’s right to.

SAHMama
SAHMama
7 years ago

I recently quit freecycle after being a member for over 8 years. A member pulled a no-show on an item I was offering. So I contacted that person to let them know the offer was rescinded and I would be contacting someone else for pickup. Two days later, another person was supposed to pick it up. I put the item on my porch. About two hours after the pickup time, I got an email from the new person. She said there was nothing on my porch. I contacted the no-show person and as it turned out, they came and stole… Read more »

cca.
cca.
7 years ago

you have a heart of gold, Thank you for this beautiful story! God is in the details.

Lisa Aberle
Lisa Aberle
7 years ago
Reply to  cca.

That’s very kind of you, but I don’t feel like I have a heart of gold. Lots of people around me do, though :).

Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies
Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies
7 years ago

It’s more than just money – it’s knowing each others habits well enough to know when something is very wrong. Our 90+ year old neighbor didn’t pick up her paper from the driveway one Sunday morning. By 8:30 or 9:00, the neighbors all knew that something wasn’t right, and we all came together and tried to get her to answer the door and or the phone. When she didn’t, 911 was called and found that she had a stroke the previous night. (She’s in rehab now, recovering…), but this all happened because she didn’t get her paper in the morning.

Tie the Money Knot
Tie the Money Knot
7 years ago

Relationships are what bind all of us together in one way or another, like it or not. To the extent that we can engage with a generous spirit, it will only help us down the line. It seems like you’ve encountered some people with that approach, and that’s nice to read.

Jen2
Jen2
7 years ago

Man, I miss living somewhere that people care about each other. I live in Baltimore now and Friday morning I found that my car had been broken into (luckily because I had accidently left it unlocked and not because they caused damage to get it) and my GPS was stolen for the second time this year. Yesterday, we went out to our car to find that someone had run into it while parked in the middle of the night and didn’t bother to leave a note. Your post makes me wonder why people don’t care about each other in large… Read more »

CincyCat
CincyCat
7 years ago
Reply to  Jen2

Jen2,

I know many people who live in high car break-in areas and leave their cars unlocked deliberately. Not sure how their insurance companies react to this philosophy, but my friends figure it is the lesser of two evils: broken into car, or broken into car + broken car window.

spb
spb
7 years ago
Reply to  Jen2

I’m sorry to hear about the string of damage/theft and that you feel like nobody cares about each other. I live in a city with high crime rates, but people in the city still care. Somehow we all have to find and create community. Yes, I’ve had my parked car smashed into and no contact info left; yes, people get jumped for their ipods and homes get broken into regularly and there is nothing cool or ok about it. On the other hand, someone dropped off flyers encouraging people to “stay home and support their local trick-or-treaters” this year. Guess… Read more »

Budget & the Beach
Budget & the Beach
7 years ago

The closest I think I come to this is bartering services. I have a skill that is useful to a lot of people (video editing) and have traded that for personal training sessions, life coaching, etc. Especially when it supports small business, or women owned businesses like mine.

MJ in Milano
MJ in Milano
7 years ago

I agree. Few things are as satisfying as getting two broken things to make a whole one. Your story brought tears to my eyes too.

Carol
Carol
7 years ago

Here in NJ, we just experienced Hurricane Sandy. A tree came down on our house. A man that I hardly know came with a backhoe and pulled it off the house. My neighbor came out with a saw and helped cut up branches. We’ve had literally thousands of volunteers helping to clean up the beachfront. It has been amazing.

Val
Val
7 years ago

I too have been on the receiving end of wonderful caring by my community. When my husband was diagnosed with cancer years ago – our community rallied around us. Meals, babysitting for my kids while we went to treatments, and so much more! I especially remember our “snow angels” – our snow kept being miraculously shovelled. This was all such a blessing to me, especially after his passsing. Now, I try if I can, to help others if possible. Community is a wonderful thing!

Tina
Tina
7 years ago

I really envy how your community helps you. I have always been one to help others in my community but unfortunately, not everyone feels the same. We had a fire several years ago in our home and nobody helped us not even the Red Cross. We only had the clothes on our backs and still no help from anyone except our families. Even a few months back, my neighbor was digging up some flowers and was going to throw them away. I asked if we could have them since he was going to throw them away and he looked at… Read more »

M
M
7 years ago

I’m so sorry for the loss of your dad. What wonderful men you had in your community! My mother died suddenly when I was 13 years old. I don’t remember if there was much support from our neighbors(honestly, I was a zombie for months)but I do remember that only ONE classmate acknowledged what had occurred. My 13 year old self really could have used a hug. But I learned early about life’s fragility and now try my best to remember to extend a loving touch when I meet a grieving survivor.

Thrifty Writer
Thrifty Writer
7 years ago

One of the communities I belong to is a community of writers. When one in our community lost his father to cancer and had to fly to Washington State to help out his family, someone came up with the great idea of cleaning his apartment and stocking his refrigerator, since the last thing he’d probably want to do, when he got back, was clean or cook. It’s interesting, because I live in a big city that’s probably not considered the kind of place where this happens, but even in a big city, you tend to belong to lots of little… Read more »

clara
clara
7 years ago
Reply to  Thrifty Writer

Seems to me that whenever I have a need, there is someone to offer some assistance. Strangers, friends, all a blessing. Kind of amazing, really.

tracylee
tracylee
7 years ago

I was touched by this article, too. I think community is so important. We are spending six months away from our house and family as I finish up my dissertation, and I am reminded of how important community is to our every day. We have been lucky to connect with a group of moms here who have been very generous with time and one even gave me a printer today to help and wouldn’t take a dime. Our landlady brings us fresh fruit whenever she comes, and she even took us with her to a party where we met some… Read more »

Rosa
Rosa
7 years ago

This sense of community is one thing that gets lost when one leads a rather nomadic existence. My husband & I are academics, & these days, good jobs in academe are few and far between, so many people go from place to place on contracts. We, along with many of our friends, had not, for many years, stayed in any area for long, sometimes just 18 months. I finally found a good job I love, and my husband has created his own career in another field. Maybe we’ll finally stay put. But this isn’t just a post about me. This… Read more »

Kelley
Kelley
7 years ago

I LOVE this article – super well written and something I am realizing every day more and more. I want to help others because of the help that’s been given to me. My family and coworkers donated over 12 weeks of leave for me to be able to stay home with my newborn baby. It changed my life and outlook on humanity. Well done.

Kelly@Financial-Lessons
7 years ago

I love this post. I think anyone that is unselfish and has ever been lent a helping hand without anything expected in return understand how truly priceless a community of helpers can be. When my mom’s best friend was diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer and couldn’t work as a school teacher anymore, her medical bills began to pile up. Because she taught in the same town that she grew up in, people in the community put together a huge fundraiser, with donated items to auction off to raise money. It was incredible.

N
N
7 years ago

Thank you for this post. It was one of the most meaningful I have read to date.

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