I have only a little to give but how to draw the line?
May 24, 2014 10:28 PM   Subscribe

I have a needy friend that I have been helping out, but I need to draw a line somehow. Complication: we work together. I can’t let my friend and her son literally starve, but I really am pretty broke. I don’t know how to word things / deal with the situation to tell her I can’t give any more, when she inevitably requests more help.

Apologies for the huge textwall below.

I have a friend, Sara, who is also a coworker. Sara is one of my best friends, and I don’t have many. Anyway, lately her financial situation has been even worse than usual, and today I gave her a bag of groceries so she and her son wouldn’t starve, and $10 for gas that she said she would pay me back once we get paid (on the 30th). This is the second time I have given her a bag of food, the first time was maybe 5 months ago.

I feel really sorry for her, and I could spare the cash for a little bit, and the food is mainly stuff I wouldn’t get around to eating, but I’m really afraid she’s going to ask for even more soon. Possibly a lot more. I don’t have a lot to give (I make slightly less than she does and I have been trying to clamp down on my recent bad habit of running up my credit cards. I am not living within my means and I need to tighten my budget, something I am working on and struggling with. I’m not gonna have extra food to give beyond maybe one more bag of groceries. I am having to drastically reduce my food budget to make ends meet. I cannot afford to feed three people.)

And I’m worried. I don’t know how to draw the line. I will feel like a supreme asshole for even drawing a line, and I keep going over and over again in my head how I could word a possible response. And I am afraid any response at all other than giving til I bleed is gonna cause her to be really damned unpleasant to me at work, or at least freeze me out and make things super-awkward.

Possibly relevant details: We work in the same room with four other people, and she’s the chief gossip. There might be a desk shift-around in the future, maybe 4-6 months away, but I’m not sure. I dread being in the same room with her for 40 hours a week if she is pissed off at me.

She is a single mother with zero support from the father. She has one 14 yer old son, and two other sons who are older, but one is kind of a deadbeat (says he will pay her then goes and buys himself a laptop and gives her nothing), and the other is in jail. She lives in my apartment complex. She called me today to beg for food because she had none, and she was desperate for something to feed her son. Her son was over at her sister’s place earlier in the day, and her sister would not even give her son any food to eat, not even a ramen. She told me she is used to “fasting” and has lost like 25 pounds recently :(. This breaks my heart. I give her food for lunch at work sometimes too.

Argh! I can’t fix her financial situation, and I absolutely feel like it’s not my place to offer unsolicited advice. But I am uncomfortable with this and fear being dragged down into the quicksand with her, because I feel pity for her and she is my friend and I would be a supremely Bad Friend if I let her go hungry.

But honestly this feels like a really one-sided friendship. I don’t think I have ever asked her for anything that I can think of, beyond just normal work-related stuff that any coworker should do for another reciprocally. I mean she’s nice to me and supportive when we chat about things, etc. My other friend thinks I am totally being taken advantage of and need to cut her off completely. But he doesn’t even know about this food request today.

Also not sure if this is relevant to the question, but she is very religious and I don’t know what sort of resources she might have at her church. She said she recently left her old church and has just joined a new one, so I don’t know if she has the kind of support network there that can really help her. I haven’t asked about it. I don’t know if she is on food stamps or not, but I’m 99% sure she already is or does not qualify.

So I am asking the hive mind: how do I draw the line and deal with my growing suspicion of being taken advantage of? I mean, I feel like I am a generous person when I have stuff to share, but it kind of feels like she’s this endless pit of need and yet I view with dread any time she asks me for more. I mean, in January I said “sure you can come over and use my computer and internet”, and this turned into like 15 weeks of 3-6 hours on one weeknight a week doing her schoolwork. Way more than I was comfortable with (I cannot relax when I have people over, and it went well past my bedtime more than once). When she originally asked it sounded like she needed to come over only once. But I couldn’t exactly bail on that because she absolutely needed it for her class. How can I say no when she can’t afford gas money to go to the school’s computer lab? I need to set a boundary, but how would you do this?

I feel like it’s gotta be a delicate dance of not pissing her off, yet not letting her (and her poor son) literally starve, yet not going even broke-er myself. I feel like I’ve set the expectation with her that I will do anything for her forever, but this is really unrealistic obviously. I just feel really pinned in an uncomfortable situation.

TL;DR: Needy friend, including food insecurity. I’ve given a lot already, and need to draw a boundary. Help?
posted by sock puppetron on wheels to Human Relations (34 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You work in the same room as 4 other people, but it sounds like she's not making these demands on them, and she's not furious with them either. Can you observe how they draw the line, and emulate it?

I suspect what happened is that she did a little test first for all of you (including the other 4). The others simply said no, but you said yes. Then she asked for a bigger request, and a bigger one.

If you change your position now, she probably will try all sorts of behaviors to get you to relent, including gossiping about you, freezing you out, etc. She knows that you're the type of person who *could* say yes, so she's going to try many techniques. She knows the others are the type of people who say no, so she's already given up trying things with them.

You need to convince her that you've switched from the type of person who says yes, to the type of person who says no. To do this, vary your demeanor, tone of voice, and body language as much as possible. If you normally say in a soft tone "i don't know, i guess, maybe" while leaning on one foot and wringing your hands, try standing up very straight on both feet solidly and saying loudly, "That last bag of food was all I can do for a few months. Good luck."
posted by cheesecake at 10:51 PM on May 24, 2014 [24 favorites]

Refer her to a food bank.
posted by shoesietart at 10:58 PM on May 24, 2014 [19 favorites]

Yeah, seconding shoesietart.
Let her know that you can't do it anymore "but these people are set up to do it..." as you hand her a sheet that lists all of the local places that she can go to get help with food/meals.
posted by blueberry at 11:09 PM on May 24, 2014 [12 favorites]

If she is coming to you for help, I think you need to politely, supportively tell her advice is all you can offer, since she needs far more help than you can give her (and that's what you need to gently point out to her).

"Puppetron, I'm starving and I need another bag of groceries..."
"Friend, I am so sorry, that must be really stressful. Unfortunately you need more help than I can give you. I care about you and your son(s), so after I got you that last bag of groceries on Tuesday I looked into some options for you. I know you may have already tried some of these, but I hope there's something here that can help. I really hope it gets better." And then you hand her some printouts.

And if she pushes back: "Oh, thanks, but what I really need right now is just this one bag of groceries for my son's dinner tonight..." then you say sympathetically, "I understand. But I'm just not in a position to help you myself anymore which is why I found you these alternatives. I'm so sorry, it's a bad spot to be in and I hope these will help."

And then later, if need be, "Friend, I really am sorry but I've helped as much as I'm able already."

Some of those options, perhaps (and you don't even have to suggest all of these to her, but I'm listing them not just for her but for you so you can see you aren't the only possible source of help):
> Has she taken the father to court for child support?

> Could you compile a list of food bank resources and do mention food stamps just in case she isn't on them as well? My town has a food bank, but we also have a thrift store that gives away food to the hungry as well and church-provided meals for the poor and also just general church come-for-Wednesday-lunch-and-prayer meals.

> Has she looked into the assistance programs that come hand-in-hand with SNAP (food stamps) like subsidized cell phone service so she can save money she can then spend on food and/or gas?

> Perhaps she needs to consider a move into a shelter or governmental housing assistance program or a relative's home?

> Re: computer/internet, the past two universities I've worked at both checked out laptops for free, like books. Then she'd just need to find a place with free wifi like a cafe or something. Public libraries also let people use computers/internet for periods of time.

> Has she held a garage sale/unsubscribed from an extraneous services/looked for a second job/considered pausing on school to save money until she can afford it?
posted by vegartanipla at 11:13 PM on May 24, 2014 [21 favorites]

Also this may be too obvious but her son is getting the free and reduced price school breakfasts and lunches, right? (There's generally a summer food program as well.)
posted by vegartanipla at 11:26 PM on May 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

any response at all other than giving til I bleed is gonna cause her to be really damned unpleasant to me at work, or at least freeze me out and make things super-awkward.

I dread being in the same room with her for 40 hours a week if she is pissed off at me.

She has you running scared, trying desperately to help her even though you're not well off yourself. This is not friendship.

Sara is a manipulator and a mooch.
posted by zadcat at 12:11 AM on May 25, 2014 [11 favorites]

I think maybe it's time to stop seeing her comments about her situation as requests for help (even if that's what they are), and to start treating them as opportunities to commiserate about how poor you both are. It sounds as though you are actually in a pretty bad financial place too, but maybe she doesn't realise it. So next time your conversation could go more like this:

Her "Oh my god, I have no food in the house, and my son is going hungry. I don't know what to do!"
You "I know! It's still a week until payday, and I'm getting calls from my credit card company about my debt. I don't know how I'm ever going to pay it off. And I've been eating beans and rice solidly for days now."
Her "At least you have some food in the house..."
You "For now, but I'm worried it isn't going to last until payday. I've been looking into food banks to see if they can help tide me over. Do you want the addresses of the ones I managed to find? Maybe we could go together?"
posted by lollusc at 12:36 AM on May 25, 2014 [22 favorites]

If she can't take a reasonable boundary like, "I can't keep giving you more money and time", then she's not a friend, she's a bank customer upset that the ATM won't work.

Tell her you can't anymore as it's become too much. Be simple and direct. Understand that most of what you're feeling RE: feeling like an asshole is likely coming from you, not her (and if it is coming from her...that's rude). You've already gone above and beyond. Put on your own oxygen mask.
posted by inturnaround at 1:04 AM on May 25, 2014 [7 favorites]

This woman is NOT a friend: she's a leech. I'll bet her sister turned her son down for dinner for exactly the same reason you're here now, because Sister got tired of being drained by Sara.

Your computer: tell her flat-out "I'm sorry, that won't be possible" next time she wants to use it --- don't discuss WHY it won't be possible, don't offer any explanations or reasons, don't say anything that leaves open a later time (don't say "it's not possible RIGHT NOW), just No, it's not possible, period. If she calls, tell her no. If she simply shows up at your door DO NOT LET HER IN. Send her to the library instead: every library I know of has computers available to use for free.

Food: make up a list of food banks you can have ready to hand her next time she comes to you. If she simply sends her son over expecting you to feed him, don't let him in, just hand him a package of ramen and send him home. Again, do NOT give her reasons or explanations; just keep repeating "I'm sorry, but that won't be possible", over and over and over to her. So WHAT if she thinks you're rude: she is NOT your friend, she only wants to use you until there's nothing left, at which point she'll drop you like a rock.

Gossip at work: don't worry about it, I'll bet your other coworkers already know she's a gossip, and discount everything she says as garbage.

Her church: every church out there either HAS resources to help her, or can tell her where to get it. And I know this is cynical of me, but I've seen people switch churches because they've drained Church A of all they can get, and now they've moved on to do the same to Church B, and eventually Church C.
posted by easily confused at 2:48 AM on May 25, 2014 [6 favorites]

She sounds like a lot for you to handle. I disagree about offering suggestions of alternatives, that just gives her room to manipulate you ("I can't go to court, the food bank food is awful, etc").

It would be great if you could turn on a dime and change this dynamic but your own behaviour is so self-defeating and dysfunctional I don't think you can do it without a strong support network like close friends that love you and a therapist. Absent those things, a fade would be more appropriate. Be too busy to hang out, don't respond to her texts, if she corners you into promising something just don't follow through because you "forgot". Stop seeing her situation as something that happened to her and instead as the consequence of the choices she has made. She has alternatives, but they aren't as easy as guilting you into just handing over what she wants. You don't think your friendship will survive you feeding yourself instead of her? Then it isn't a friendship, is it? Your other friend has already noticed you are allowing yourself to be used. Generally, healthy people drift away from people that are users and enablers; they get tired of hearing about the dramaz and seeing someone repeatedly make bad choices despite knowing the outcome will be exactly as predicted for the thirtieth time. Do you want to lose your friendships with the people that DO value you as a friend so this woman can drag you down and discard you?

And go to your boss. Her behaviour is unprofessional and the boss should be stepping in to tell her to not make requests of this nature to co-workers and definitely not retaliating against them if they (quite rightly) refuse her outrageous demands.
posted by saucysault at 2:51 AM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I assume this is the US? If so, there are food pantries that will help. I wish I knew where you were so we could better direct you, but start by calling 311. Since you have internet, try doing a google search. Most places in the US will have pantries. It won't be enough to feed them for a month usually, but if what she needs is a bag of groceries here or there, this is exactly what a pantry can do.
I know for some people there is shame in getting help, but one way that sometimes helps with that is to volunteer at the food pantry in exchange for food. I know of one place locally that will give one bag of groceries for one shift. Sometimes people feel better because they are working for the food.
posted by bananafish at 4:45 AM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is so hard - I got taken advantage of like this when I was in high school, by a "friend" who was pregnant and needed money for doctor's appointments. I gave her my lunch money and went hungry for nearly a year before a teacher figured out what was going on.

Here's the thing, sock puppetron: there are resources for people who need help. Your coworker does not need to come to you, and you do not need to support additional people who are not your family. You are a good person, even if you say no to this. In fact, I would say you are a good person especially if you say no to this, because you are absolutely not in a financial position to help. You need to take care of yourself first - put on your own oxygen mask before helping others, as it were.

You will need to prepare yourself to get out of this helping situation. Step one is to make a list of available resources for your coworker - a list of food banks, a list of church pantries, a phone number to apply for food stamps or other benefits in your area, a list of before/after school programs that provide meals to kids. Add to the list places to use a computer for free - public library, local college/university (if she's taking classes, does she not have access to those facilities? Don't they have computer labs or a library that's open late? They would also have programs for students in need, or in a worst case scenario, she could take out loans for living expenses).

Then you have two options. You can have that list with you, in your purse or backpack or desk drawer, so that next time she asks you can give it to her. Or you can approach her first and say, "I am not able to help you with groceries anymore, but here is a list of resources I found for you. These places exist to help people in your situation, and I cannot afford to do so anymore." Approaching her will be harder, but it might mean there is only one conversation to be had - she will realize that you are serious and are not going to enable her anymore. Waiting for her to ask, she may try to argue or rebut your resources. But it's really hard to initiate this step.

(Also, frankly, I don't believe that her sister wouldn't feed her son. If they are close enough to spend time together or for the sister to be taking care of him, I seriously doubt the sister would withhold food from the boy. More likely, the boy didn't want what was being served, or your coworker thought it made a good story - but I'm not buying it. She is trying to convince you that her family is literally on the verge of starvation, but I PROMISE YOU, if you stop helping, they will not die of starvation.)
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:32 AM on May 25, 2014 [9 favorites]

At first I thought this was one of those "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime" situations, but reading on I realized that Sara is not unable - she has a full time job, goes to school and has teenage/adult sons. She knows how to get what she wants, the only problem is she uses other people to get there.
But at the same time she is going through a tough time, anyone who went to school and worked a full time job knows how draining that is. It's understandable that she can use some help, but the fashion in which she is reaching out is obviously putting a strain on her friendships.

OP, from what I understand you don't want to cut her off because a) you value your friendship with her and b) are stuck with her at work. I want to encourage you though to think about if this is the type of friendship you want - is she giving you support when you need it? Do you sometimes hang out in your free time and is it fun? What could she be doing more of in order for your friendship to feel more balanced? I am thinking that maybe a bigger friendship talk is in order, where you tell her that your friendship went off rails, that you are sorry her situation is unstable but that you feel uncomfortable with her asking for so much.

Remember: You are not responsible for her happiness, health, nutrition....! Tell her that your own financial situation is uncertain and that you'll need a few month if not a year to sort it out. Say you feel for her and her son so you've been thinking long and hard how to help them out. Then point her to resources:
- Find a local food bank here.
- Here is more info on different services by the USDA.
- Are coupons a thing in your area? Maybe you could learn how to coupon together? Some states/stores allow for really good deals - this way she could restock her pantry with staples.
- Check your search engine for food sharing, csa/co op and community gardens. Many places allow members/volunteers to take home food. Maybe the son would even enjoy helping out at a community garden over the summer?
posted by travelwithcats at 6:44 AM on May 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Its not your fault they are 'in financial difficulty'. It is not your job, or duty, or even moral responsibility to keep caring for them. I agree that you can do a lot more to help by teaching them how to fish, instead of giving, giving, giving fish. There are tons of organizations set up to do exactly that- from the government, to churches, to private entities and everything in between. She should be leaning on those, instead of co- workers.

She probably is not going to want to give up her easy help, but for your sake, cut her off. As gently or as firmly as it takes! But start setting up those boundaries- and enforcing them- as soon as you can.
posted by Jacen at 6:46 AM on May 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

I agree with Saucysault that she shouldn't be doing this to a co-worker, let alone one who makes less than she does! If she persists in this, I would go meta on her: look I think this is inappropriate in the workplace; it's making me uncomfortable, putting me under pressure, affecting the work dynamic, whatever. And do point out that you don't have the money to give her, because you don't! If she persists or retaliates let her know you're going to tell your boss about this.
posted by BibiRose at 6:58 AM on May 25, 2014

It may not seem like it, but saying, "we need to set some time limits for the computer use. Tues-thurs, from this to that hour.". Would suffice. You could add, " I need my ME time to relax and you staying over after my bedtime is really throwing off my inner clock".
No one on god's green earth would resent that. It's a perfectly reasonable request.

Also agreeing on food banks. I donate food and other items to charities regularly so kids like hers won't go hungry. Look those up for her. Plus, aren't her kids getting food at school? I used to teach poor kids. Many had their ONLY meals of the day at school. There might be after school programs that they can enroll in to get an extra meal per day.

Remind yourself that if she CHOOSES to give her older son money instead of buying groceries to feed another son or gas to get to work, that that is HER DECISION. You, in no way, shape, or form should be there to remedy that decision. It's like a baby that throws food on the ground then mommy always brings more food. It will never learn not to do that unless it has to face the consequences.

She might be under the impression that you are rolling in money since you don't have kids to feed (ridiculously egocentric of her!). IDK, start bitching about the interest rates on your credit card debt, and how it's just eating away your income.
And you know what, when she calls, you don't have to answer. Let it go to voicemail and claim you forgot your phone in your car. If a landline, you put it on silent bc headache and forgot to turn it back on.
Right now, you are an open door. Everything she needs, she gets from you. Her demands will NOT lessen unless you start sticking up for yourself. They'll only get worse.
posted by Neekee at 8:16 AM on May 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

I don't think (unless OP confirms) that Sara isn't hitting up others in the office for the same things. We don't actually know that Sara has asked them all and they've all said no. I doubt that she is asking for food and favors in front of everyone in the office; most likely it's in private. It's very possible that she is receiving food from others in the office, not just the OP.

You're a good person in a bad situation. Sara is not going to starve without your help and neither is her son. Don't answer the door if she knocks. Don't answer the door if her son knocks.

I really like the idea of finding resources for her and giving her a print out full of names and addresses of local places that can help her.

Also think about suggesting to her that she find out if her son is old enough to get working papers and get a part-time job. I don't know where you live but as an example, here in PA you can get working papers at 14 and can work a couple of hours a day after school and on weekends, usually for minimum wage. Getting a job at a fast food place or restaurant usually comes with the perk of a free meal to be eaten during your shift.
posted by the webmistress at 8:17 AM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just want to chime in that yes, you ARE a good person. I don't want my previous comment to sound like I am blaming you for being exploited. You are a good person and she is doing this to you BECAUSE you are a good person. You would never act the way she is acting, and never treat a friend the way she is treating you. And she knows this and is exploiting your goodness.

When you share goodness and do nice things for people it should increase the amount of good in the world. But for her, it doesn't. All the good you pour into her goes into a black hole inside her that sucks it up and just craves more. It is good to be generous, but share your generosity with good friends that appreciate it and reciprocate it back.
posted by saucysault at 9:01 AM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

You know, at first I was going to agree that you should cut this woman off and compile a list of resources for her so she can utilize organizations that exist specifically to help people in her situation.

But then I realized that Sara is young. Sara is in school. Sara knows how to use the computer. Sara knows how to the use the internet. Sara has family who currently help her (and I do NOT buy her sister refused to feed the child she babysat all day). Sara has been part of a church that undoubtedly offers food assistance. Sara already knows about the resources available to her. I don't think you providing a list of them to her will do anything - except require you to invest yet MORE time into a one-sided 'friendship'.

Disengage from this person. Tell her about your own financial position - tell her what you just told us - that you make LESS than she does (!), are barley scraping by yourself and simply cannot support 3 people. There is nothing wrong with telling the truth in this situation.

If she asks you for food? "Oh, wow, I'm sorry, but I'm really scraping by. I'm hoping I have enough to last to payday. But you just joined that new church right? I hear churches usually have great food assistance. (and if you do truly want to remain friends) Maybe we could check it out together - I could really use the help too these days."

If she asks to use your computer -and- you're OK with that, but would like to establish boundaries? "You want to use my computer/internet? Things ran a bit too late last time, so how about (specific date(s)/time(s) YOU establish here)?"

If you simply want to disengage entirely from any request: "I'm sorry but I can't really help out this time (or anymore) - things are tough for me too and I'm barely scraping by." The end. If she presses: "I'm sorry/I understand but I just don't have the means to help you out (this time/anymore)."

I would also suggest she talk to her church or local food bank in conversation but I would NOT waste any more of my time compiling resources for this woman just so she can ignore them or come up with excuses to not use them.

If you feel you MUST help her because of the possible repercussions, this is NOT a friendship - this is blackmail.
posted by stubbehtail at 9:15 AM on May 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Please note that the OP said: "Sara is one of my best friends", "also a coworker" and "lives in my apartment complex". It's not as simple as "disengage from this person".
posted by travelwithcats at 9:33 AM on May 25, 2014

I'd like to point out that all the responses you're getting here - which are near-unanimously agreed that you should cut Sarah off and set boundaries to protect your own needs - are reasonable responses from people who are being reasonable about this situation. Be prepared for the fact that Sarah probably isn't going to be quite so reasonable when you tell her no, but that does not make her response a valid reason to give in again. Remember, even your other friend thinks you're being treated unreasonably.

So in addition to printing out a list of resources as suggested above, I think you should also prepare yourself by imagining how this is going to go down. I know you said you've already gone over things in your head a few times, but have you really taken it all the way to its conclusion? So Sarah gets angry - then what? So she gossips about you or is frosty at work - what will be the consequences of that? So the two of you are no longer good friends - you've said yourself that you're feeling like this friendship is not very balanced; are you REALLY such good friends right now anyway?

I would suggest that ANY consequence of setting healthy boundaries is going to be better than your present situation. Right now it seems like Sarah is causing you some serious stress even though she's not gossiping about you, not angry at you, etc. You're worrying over what you'll say to her the next time she comes to you, you're projecting forward to what will happen if you turn her down, you seem to be scrambling to justify to yourself why you can't keep giving her what she asks you for ... this is all too much. Even in the worst-case scenarios, at least you'll learn that you CAN stand up to someone without the world ending, you won't have this persistent dread and anticipation hanging over you, and sooner or later her anger will blow over (or she'll find someone else to direct her uglier energies towards).

Sarah and her son aren't going to starve. You are a good person for wanting to help her, but please redirect some of that goodness towards helping yourself.
posted by DingoMutt at 9:51 AM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

If she simply shows up at your door DO NOT LET HER IN.

Let's go one step further on this. If you're like me and find it difficult to say no to people, particularly people with strong expectations of your behavior, just don't answer the door. I actually do this on a somewhat regular basis when I'm not expecting guests or packages and just don't feel like coping with whatever needs or expectations the person at the door has (I don't know what they are, but I just don't feel like making them my problem).

Next time she shows up at your door, don't even answer the door. It doesn't matter if the lights are on (but do make sure the door is actually locked, as she sounds like the kind of person who would try the knob if you don't answer the door) or your music/shower/TV is going, but if you have curtains you may want to draw them. Then just don't answer.

And when she says "OMG I knocked and knocked on your door last night and you didn't answer!!" at work the next day you say "Oh really? I didn't realize you were coming over." Then change the subject.
posted by arnicae at 9:54 AM on May 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

I am slightly appalled at how this woman is being characterised -- two asks five months apart doesn't seem abusive to me. It is horrendous to not be able to put food on your table, and if she's taking college classes it sounds like she's taking steps to improve her situation. Has she paid you back for the previous cash loan?

Personally, I think you should ring the food banks in your area and be pre-emptive about the fact that she probably will ask again (because that's how cyclical poverty works.) Find out what the entrance requirements for the food banks are -- some have none beyond "show up" and others have paperwork to qualify recipients. Then you can say "I have no money and just the gas in my car, but I can take you to X foodbank or you can drop into Y food bank; here are the hours."
posted by DarlingBri at 9:54 AM on May 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Keep in mind that you have even LESS ability to stretch your income to support THREE people than she does to support TWO people.

As you talk to her, remind yourself and her that when you were able to, you did give to her.
Now, however, you no longer have those resources.

If you like, offer to HELP HER FIND resources, but I wouldn't bother preparing a list of resources.

Don't worry about gossip at work--whatever she starts spreading is easily answered with..."Well, I gave her food/money when I was able to--does she still need food/money--can you give her some?"
posted by calgirl at 10:02 AM on May 25, 2014

I give her food for lunch at work sometimes too ... it sounded like she needed to come over only once ... this turned into like 15 weeks of 3-6 hours ... this feels like a really one-sided friendship ... I don’t think I have ever asked her for anything that I can think of ... she’s this endless pit of need and yet I view with dread any time she asks me for more ... I fear being dragged down into the quicksand with her ... it’s gotta be a delicate dance of not pissing her off....

DarlingBri, it sounds like there is an entrenched pattern of the higher-paid co-worker expecting food and other resources from the nearly resource-less OP that is motivated by fear of the co-worker's anger. Lots of lower-socio-economic status people pool their resources to get by, but the co-worker is not offering anything in return after months of taking advantage. The kindest thing the OP mentions about the co-worker is that she chats with her, that is a pretty low bar.
posted by saucysault at 10:13 AM on May 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

You say you've never asked her for anything. What do you think would happen if you did? I'm not suggesting you actually do, in case you get into something like "I gave you a ride last week so where's my three bags of groceries and free wifi?" But it's worth thinking about, because people have vastly different attitudes toward asking for help. If her threshhold for asking is way lower than yours, she may have no idea that you are struggling with her demands.

Some people can coast along for quite a while on the path of least resistance, which at this point is you. To start providing more resistance, I suggest not letting her over to your place next time she asks. See how that goes; you'll have a lot more information then.
posted by expialidocious at 11:13 AM on May 25, 2014

There are food banks and there is food stamps. If she's never applied, she should. If she's already getting them, she either has sufficient money for food between them and her income, or she's illegally trading them for something. If she was denied any, then she has way more then enough money to deal with it herself.

You're being used.
posted by stormyteal at 11:16 AM on May 25, 2014

And a couple more thoughts:

It's perfectly ok to say "I'm sorry, I don't have any extra to share right now". In regards to lunch you brought to work, ensure that is true.

And if you see indications - or she tells you things that indicate - that she is neglecting her child through her actions or inaction - report it.
posted by stormyteal at 11:20 AM on May 25, 2014

Listen to your instincts:

But honestly this feels like a really one-sided friendship.

it kind of feels like she’s this endless pit of need and yet I view with dread any time she asks me for more.

I am afraid any response at all other than giving til I bleed is gonna cause her to be really damned unpleasant to me

I just feel really pinned in an uncomfortable situation.

Others have said it already, but I just want to underscore: she is not your friend. Actual friendships consist of more than "friendliness" (conversation, pleasantries, etc.); they consist of two people who have mutual regard and empathy for each other. A real friend wouldn't take advantage of you, wouldn't frighten you into helping her to your own detriment, and wouldn't want you to feel trapped or uncomfortable. She demonstrates none of this concern for you, and I think on a gut level you realize this.

It's clear that you are a good person, a generous person, and a compassionate person. And you will still be all of those things when you draw a boundary with her. You are under no moral or ethical obligation to bleed yourself dry on her (or anyone else's) behalf. Even Buddhists, who regard compassion as one of the very highest human qualities, recognize that you cannot help others by doing harm to yourself. (Moreover, when we are being abused in some way -- and I do think this woman is abusing your kindness -- setting appropriate boundaries is actually the most compassionate thing you can do, both for yourself and the other party, because it helps to prevent the other person from inflicting further harm.)

There's a quote from Adam Yauch (of the Beastie Boys, who was a practicing Buddhist) that may be helpful to you, not just in this instance but more generally in terms of thinking about boundaries as a positive rather than negative thing:
A lot of people just mess themselves up by feeling like they have to "do" stuff for other people, all of the time, even when that's not working for them personally. They have to include themselves in that overall picture of benefitting everyone. They have to include themselves as "beings", and know that by being in their strongest place, that that is how they can most benefit the universe, most of the time. Being a bodhisattva is about strengthening yourself, so you can go on. Benefit where the benefit is needed. Come from a strong place in yourself and you really help people.
This is a thread from a couple of years ago that might help more generally, too. I wish you the best.
posted by scody at 11:40 AM on May 25, 2014 [6 favorites]

Food bank. Food stamps. Church assistance. Dollar store groceries--they carry bread, condiments, beans, etc.
Library for the computer.

If she really is a good friend and over her head, that's one thing. If she's mooching on you, that's another.

I do think perhaps you just need to dial back to feel more comfortable with this. Offer to drive her to the food bank. Buy ten packages of ramen to keep on hand, and if she says she's short on food that week, give her that, and only that. If you really don't mind that she uses the computer (and she's actually working and not surfing) then set a date and time limit. Remind her 15 minutes before her limit expires. If she gives you grief, make the computer unavailable with the explanation that you really have to get your sleep, and the library is always available.

If she's really a friend, you can back off a bit, yet still be of help.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:43 PM on May 25, 2014

You may be falling to the Benjamin Franklin effect - by doing favors for Sara you are buying into the illusion that she is your "best friend" even though she really hasn't done anything to earn the title. You seem to be waking up and questioning her place in your life.

Do not let this lady in your house to use your computer (or anything else) any more. Tell her it's broken, tell her you cancelled internet service to save money - yes, it's lying but she clearly has no problem bullying her way into "favors". Seriously, do not let her in her house to use your stuff. Setting a schedule will not work with her. If she gets in your home she will push for more favors and it will be even more difficult for you to refuse. Hard boundary: No Sara in your home, even for five minutes.

If I were to continue giving her extra food, I would make sure it was something like dried beans, which are cheap, filling, nutritious, and store well. A pound of dry beans for $1-2 makes 6-7 cups of uncooked beans. People who are genuinely hurting for food will be happy to get beans, but beans are not luxury food by a long shot. Don't give her anything that costs more than $1-2 a pound. If she figures out she's only going to get beans out of you, she will either find a better budget solution or move on to asking others for easier handouts. But you won't be letting her or her kid starve.

I ate a lot of pinto beans and cornbread growing up as a kid. It definitely beats going hungry! Just last week I slow-cooked dry black beans in chicken bullion with some onion and then added it to various dishes through the week - economical and tasty! Do not feel bad about giving her beans.
posted by griselda at 5:39 PM on May 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Seconding the beans thing. Rice and beans* are a tight budget's best friend. No more buying her groceries. Give her 1-2 ramen packs, 1 bag of beans, ziplock of rice. Ta-da!

Black beans with plenty of garlic and onions - delicious!!!
posted by Neekee at 8:06 PM on May 25, 2014

I am sorry to hear about what you are going through. I don't recommend trying to help her solve her problems by mentioning food banks or other resources. Don't stay involved in any way. She won't appreciate advice after you withdraw direct personal support, so don't bother. Giving her advice is obviously a way to appease your conscience and she won't want to help you feel better, quite the opposite. Also, if you are afraid about the confrontation and anger when tell her you are withdrawing support, bring a friend or two with you to help. Sort of like an intervention.
posted by conrad53 at 10:48 PM on May 25, 2014

I would buy a 6-pack of ramens and maybe a couple cans of beans, maybe some boxed mac-n-cheese, peanut butter and crackers, for someone who said they had no food. Because it's kind. At work, if you feel that she's leaning on you for food or money, keep some ramen in your desk for food, and tell her you can't loan money because of your own finances. If she doesn't pay you back immediately on payday, ask for the money. Either way, note that you don't have financial freedom to help her financially. The computer example is one where saying No should be easier. Sara, it's kind of disruptive to have someone on my computer so often. Can you use one at work/ on campus/ at the library? Learning to say No requires practice. It helps to remember that you have a right to say No, it's not mean or unkind to have boundaries, and a friend will not be a jerk if you say No.
posted by theora55 at 2:13 PM on May 26, 2014

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