What is a good gift for someone going through a hard time?
September 15, 2011 5:29 PM   Subscribe

One of the people at my job had to quit due to a heart attack. I volunteered to buy a gift on behalf of the office, but I have no idea what to get. What should I get for someone who is sick and probably in a dire financial situation?

One of the custodians in my office had a heart attack and now cannot return to work. She's never had a ton of money, but has always shown kindness to me and my coworkers. She even bought me a giant box of diapers after the birth of my daughter.

I'm kind of torn between getting her something nice and getting her something she needs. I could give her a fruit bouquet or one of those tea sets she collects, but from talking to a few people it sounds like she could use help paying bills instead.

My company will reimburse me for about $50-$75 and I'll put in an additional $50 of my own money. Our sister company bought her a grocery store card, which I think was a little impersonal, but probably not a bad choice.

I think sending cash would be presumptuous (and wouldn't work for the company's share). What else could I send that would work for someone going through a tough time? I really like this lady and miss her.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
A VISA gift card could be really useful for someone in her situation (so she can use it for a variety of things), BUT make the additional special effort to deliver it personally if you can, with a card from everybody at work, and perhaps a little bouquet of flowers. I think you making that special effort to deliver it in person with a hug and a smile will really help cheer her up and make a huge difference.
posted by HeyAllie at 5:37 PM on September 15, 2011 [12 favorites]

A grocery store card is a great idea, even though someone has already done it. Everybody's gotta eat. A gift card to a large retailer (Target, etc) would also do. Someplace she would need to do necessary shopping anyway. (You could also do one of those prepaid credit card brand gift cards, but read the fine print carefully and make sure it's not one that dings you with a ton of fees per each use.)

The way to do this tastefully is to get some sort of edibles arrangement (muffin basket, fruit bouquet, assortment of fancy jams) and tuck the gift card in the envelope saying you hope she gets well soon. Because it's something more personal and gifty, but also useful.
posted by phunniemee at 5:38 PM on September 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

I agree that a grocery store gift card is a bit impersonal and at the same time presumptuous as well. Everyone's got to eat and food can get expensive so I think the fruit basket or other beautifully arranged food basket would be a good and tasteful choice. I think that she'll be really touched that you thought to buy a gift so don't hem and haw too much on the gift itself.
posted by arizona80 at 5:41 PM on September 15, 2011

I go with the Visa gift card too. Sure, it is not the most elegant gift, but when you are facing financial peril you REALLY NEED as much financial wiggle room as you can get. Fancy stuff for someone in dire financial straits just wont cut it in my opinion.
posted by jcworth at 5:52 PM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

A visa gift card for $100 or $125 is enough to really make a difference to someone who never had much money and is now unable to work. Write her a nice note and say something about how you don't have her instinct for finding the gift someone would find very useful, and don't ever ask what she spent it on.
posted by yohko at 5:52 PM on September 15, 2011 [5 favorites]

I got a gift card to amazon.com and it has been AWESOMELY helpful (I am about to have a baby) because they deliver things to my house. They have food and all sorts of little things like toiletries.

Amazon also has videos and TV shows so if she's housebound for a while but able to watch on a computer she can use the gift card for that, too.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:53 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

They have cheap used books too. And if she likes giving other people gifts, she can use the amazon gift card to easily send little gifts to other people. Being able to be generous has always meant a lot to me when I have been in dire financial straits because it feels like I can still participate in normal social life.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:55 PM on September 15, 2011

I vote the Visa gift card too. It requires the least amount of presumption about what/where they buy and doesn't require any complex new behavior, like navigating shipping or online purchases. The custodians I am personally acquainted with get their groceries as well as their durable goods at walmart.
posted by toodleydoodley at 6:02 PM on September 15, 2011

I think anything you give will be appreciated but I just wanted to recommend you pop a little note in the gify just from you saying basically the things you said in this post - that you really like her and are going to miss her and her generous spirit. That will probably be her favourite part of the gift, and the part she keeps long after the material aspect is gone.
posted by hepta at 6:05 PM on September 15, 2011 [6 favorites]

A small nice plant and a visa gift card.
posted by meepmeow at 6:31 PM on September 15, 2011

Yeah, in my opinion, don't waste any part of the money on plants or whatever. That $14 could be better spent.
posted by salvia at 6:41 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

A close family member of mine just had a heart attack and I thought you were writing about them. But now I see it is a different person. Hope they get well.

If the person is a very practical person, the VISA card or cash seems the way to go. I would argue against the Amazon card or any other non-practical things. The person gave you diapers (not flowers or a card) after the birth of ur baby so she is probably practical. I am also guessing that the person doesn't do much online shopping or non-essential shopping to begin with (how I stereotyped that: custodian job so prob doesn't use computers much, not a lot of money, probably older given the heart attack).

If her heart attack was anything like my family member's heart attack, she is probably in pain from the surgery right now and wondering how to make ends meet.

Just my 2 cents.
posted by fenster_blick at 7:10 PM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm going with the visa gift card in a basket of teas she collects (you don't know her dietary restriction now, so don't get sweets! I'm against fruit bouquet because they put preservatives on them, and anyway, she's forced to consume it or chuck - and who knows? She may not have much of an appetite right now...)

But here is my caveat:

You are putting in $50 and the company $75. Collect as much as you can (be gracious if someone can all afford $5 or declines altogether!) my thinking here is that you should be able to give a card with at least $500 dollars on it if you reach out to everyone. Maybe I'm optimistic, but I think folks in that job get paid too little and I'm kinda hoping folks in your office are able to be super generous.

Someone above said $125 would be generous to "someone in that position" and while this may be true, I think you should aim for a total amount that you feel is generous.
posted by jbenben at 7:22 PM on September 15, 2011 [6 favorites]

A VISA gift card, as mentioned above, is the most essentially practical... Combine that with a few cards, signed by everyone she interacted with, and you're essentially covered.
Slightly less practical, depending on your location and etc, is a CSA box or other food delivery mechanism that will go on for several months hence. Fruit bouquets be damned... root vegetables forever!
posted by Cold Lurkey at 7:32 PM on September 15, 2011

And you can get VISA gift cards on which you pre-pay all of the fees, so there's no monthly fee, balance check fee, etc. I noticed them at Target, but I'm sure they're sold elsewhere - you pay something like $106 for a card with a balance of $100 and then the recipient actually gets all of the $100.
posted by clerestory at 8:43 PM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I myself went through a serious medical situation where I almost died, and had to take 2 months off of work. Here is what my office and friends did so generously for me and my family:

Dream Dinners - I was asked to go to their website and select the meals which fit into my family's diet.

Gift baskets containing:
toys for my son
reading materials (I had many doctor's appointments)
jigsaw puzzle
cards from coworkers
DVD movies
fruit preserves

I did receive a VISA gift card though I discouraged it. I discouraged it because I wanted my coworkers to know for sure their support went directly to my care and not spent on something frivolous. I would never do this, but I thought a gas card or a grocery card would help them know they were helping me with basic needs. Despite my discouragement, it was explained to me they were dealing with a great deal of money - through generous donations, and felt it was best. I received two VISA gift cards of tremendous value. Here is how I used them:

Paid for gas when I traveled to another city for medical treatment
Paid for parking at the treatment facility
Paid for my medical visit co payments
Majority of it went to pay towards my coinsurance

I made it clear to the person organizing the effort it was of extreme importance for me to thank each person individually. When the VISA cards were presented to me, I received a large card with each individual's name printed on it. This was a tactful and subtle hint as to who I need to extend "thanks" to. I wrote 30 thank you cards to my coworkers and made it a point to say their contribution went towards the coinsurance which was helpful as I faced large medical bills. I add this because your coworker may find it important to make sure people are individually thanked.
posted by BuffaloChickenWing at 7:20 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, as someone who's been through surgery and is facing another one soon, I will give a different answer. How about something that helps her look forward? Recovery can be long and depressing -- you might want to let others or her family worry about the money (and a money gift or gift card may be just a drop in the bucket and disappear instantly) and instead buy theater tickets or a gift certificate to a fancy restaurant or a spa day in early 2012. Whatever you choose, add something small and personal.
posted by thinkpiece at 7:24 AM on September 16, 2011

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