How to give food to neighbours who could use it but haven't asked for it
January 26, 2017 10:24 AM   Subscribe

I have neighbours who could use help that I could easily give them, but we don't know each other and they haven't asked for it. How should I go about doing this? Should I?

I live in a very mixed neighborhood and directly across the street from me is a family almost exactly like mine but with almost no financial resources. They have moved to my town from a remote location and are surviving entirely on social assistance.

I heard indirectly through another neighbour that they had asked her for some help with snacks for their kids (they get food from the food bank but kids are hungry, I guess).

I could easily give them $20 bucks or so worth of snacks like the ones my kids eat every week - in fact I have a bag sitting in my front porch to give them.

I just really have no idea how to take the next step. I don't want them to feel embarrassed or unsure of my motivations (which are simply that I recognize that they are trying to make a better life for themselves and their kids, and I want to support that in a small way).

Has anyone ever done this? What's the best way to approach this? (if I even should).
posted by davey_darling to Human Relations (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Invite them to dinner.
posted by Ausamor at 10:27 AM on January 26, 2017 [26 favorites]

Can you send them a gift card to a supermarket?
posted by cakelite at 10:28 AM on January 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

I heard indirectly through another neighbour that they had asked her for some help with snacks for their kids (they get food from the food bank but kids are hungry, I guess).

I would give to the neighbor to pass along to them, with permission to admit that you were the giver if she thought it wouldn't offend.
posted by Mchelly at 10:31 AM on January 26, 2017 [66 favorites]

Agree with Mchelly. They chose someone to ask for help. So the best help you can give is to make it possible for that person they chose to help them, if she's willing to be the conduit.
posted by decathecting at 10:34 AM on January 26, 2017 [4 favorites]

If they moved in relatively recently how about putting together a welcome basket? Fill it with things that you think the kids would like (and something for the adults too). I think it's a good way to help them save face and to establish a connection with them for future sharing of food.
posted by mcduff at 10:36 AM on January 26, 2017 [33 favorites]

I'd knock and say you accidentally bought too much this week because you and your husband both went shopping and didn't tell the other one (or something). But if you keep the snacks in the house your kids will never eat dinner. But of course you don't want to waste them. Would she mind taking them off your hands? It would be a huge favor to you.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 10:38 AM on January 26, 2017 [32 favorites]

If it's too late for a welcome basket, could you make a big batch of cookies and drop them by saying something like "I made too many for us, would you like some?"
posted by mcduff at 10:39 AM on January 26, 2017 [6 favorites]

Other good excuses include:

--you are going out of town or visiting relatives a lot and they'll just spoil
--you accidentally bought a huge [whatever] and you can only fit it in your pantry if you get rid of something else, how silly of you
--you think your little Tommy might be sensitive to berries and want to go without for a week or two but it would be silly to throw all this good food out;
--your (male) spouse bought the wrong stuff, he's so silly omg lol men amirite. you have kids, can you use it? (yes, I know, sexist, but it often works)
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 10:45 AM on January 26, 2017 [7 favorites]

--you were going to have a party but it got rescheduled and now you have way too much
--the kids' grandparents dropped all of this stuff by but we really can't use it all

etc. etc.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 10:46 AM on January 26, 2017 [5 favorites]

The reason you make it out like she's doing you a favor is so that she doesn't feel obligated to reciprocate. When you're broke and busy it's really stressful to feel like you owe someone something.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 10:49 AM on January 26, 2017 [28 favorites]

I like the idea of having a fib that allows you to drop stop every week.

"I shop at a warehouse store and I have to buy a crate of oranges instead of just a few. Can I drop stuff off time when we have too much?"

(I really do have to buy 2 packs of six bagels , or 2 baguettes, etc)
posted by ReluctantViking at 10:53 AM on January 26, 2017 [15 favorites]

Nthing the fib. We're going gluten free. My spouse is on a special diet and we're clearing out everything that's not on it.
posted by Kalmya at 11:01 AM on January 26, 2017

Invite them over for tea or coffee in the afternoon, and make a point of getting to know them better.

While there, have a spread for the kids that includes lots of single serving packaged snacks like those little bags of chips and cookies and luna bars and stuff so they can take extras if they want - and when they go home ask if they'd like to take some home since you have too many anyway, oh, Costco is ridiculous amirite?

But the real point is to get the neighbors more familiar with you and aware that you are generous and have lots of food around for yourself as well as guests. It might be that they are fine on food but didn't feel comfortable asking your gossiping neighbor for help with something less "essential" (ugh) or that they don't know who in the neighborhood they can ask for help from since as you say it is very mixed and they know how difficult it can be for their neighbors too. So be welcoming and have them get to know you and you them. Bonus side effect: friendship.

When they ask you over for an afternoon beverage in return, accept and then bring snacks with you and be excited to share.
posted by Mizu at 11:01 AM on January 26, 2017 [11 favorites]

My grandmother used to handle this by saying she had to buy extra at [bulk/warehouse store] to get this [great deal]; could her neighbors take the excess off her hands?

She had a very frugal Depression-era attitude towards money, so this had the benefit of being true, but I think a white lie is appropriate in this case.
posted by lalex at 11:07 AM on January 26, 2017 [10 favorites]

Invite the kids over to play, serve snacks, pack up leftovers at the end and send them home with them.
posted by amtho at 11:31 AM on January 26, 2017 [5 favorites]

Make an effort to really connect with the neighbors.

Host an open house and invite all the neighbors - it's an opportunity for everyone to get to know each other. You provide drinks and snacks.
Have your kids invite their kids over to play and have snacks.
Hang out on your porch, invite others to hangout with you.
Set a date for a "play street" and invite all the families out to meet and greet and play with each other (my neighbor got a permit from the city to shut the street down once a week for this kind of activity).
Invite the family over for dinner.

Giving the gift of food is great, but a longer lasting gift would be one where you create a strong relationship with that family.
posted by brookeb at 11:34 AM on January 26, 2017 [5 favorites]

Another idea: invite the kids over to make pizzas sometime. Trader Joe's sells pizza dough (whole wheat and white) pre-made for super cheap. It's a blast with a group of kids. You can let them make a few pizzas each to take home after.

Other projects: baking bread, frosting cookies, making ice cream, making yogurt, carving watermelons to fill with fruit salad.
posted by Pearl928 at 11:40 AM on January 26, 2017

Great ideas above. I'm a big fan of the welcome basket idea, or of having regular get-togethers. ("No, you guys take the rest of the pie home, please!") Also consider asking for help with something small. It keeps the relationship from feeling like one of charity -- "we're going out of town this weekend, would you guys mind picking up our mail on Saturday?" You could employ their kids if they're old enough. "We're looking for a dog walker. Could Jimmy feed our dog after school on Wednesdays? We have to be out late that night." That said, since they asked for help, they are probably not as prideful about receiving help as some people are, so a more direct approach might work fine.
posted by salvia at 12:02 PM on January 26, 2017 [7 favorites]

Host an open house and invite all the neighbors

If you do this, which is a great idea, make it absolutely clear that no one is to bring food, it is not a pot luck, you are providing food. Then, if you want, provide too much of it.

Seconding salvia's idea: Ask a favor, make a friend.
posted by amtho at 12:03 PM on January 26, 2017

One thing to maybe avoid: When I was a kid, we went through a stretch of having to go to the food bank. One day, we came home to find a bag of groceries on the front porch that some well-intentioned person had left there for us. My mom broke down sobbing.
posted by culfinglin at 12:16 PM on January 26, 2017 [4 favorites]

Be "that lady" you know, the pie lady or the casserole lady (or gent). This is assuming you have the time of course. Do some batch cooking, it's good for your own household and budget too and there's literally a point where it's cheaper to make twenty portions than four. Give to them and a few other neighbours with kids, so of family a,b,c,d you are giving to ab, bc, bd. Even a meal a week like this would likely be a great help, especially if the portion is big enough that there are leftovers for parents lunches.
posted by Iteki at 1:07 PM on January 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

I would give to the neighbor to pass along to them

yeah, because however they may feel about personal charity, how will they feel when they find out this one person they trusted with their situation spread it around the neighborhood and now everybody knows? The suggestions for avoiding the appearance of charity are a good idea but hard to pull off, and if they see through it, they'll wonder how you know. they might even ask, and then what will you say? & is this also info obtained through the neighbor: They have moved to my town from a remote location and are surviving entirely on social assistance.

if they were willing to ask one person for help directly, maybe they don't feel any secrecy or shame about the situation and would welcome anyone else knowing and helping. I hope so. but when I imagine it, I imagine working up the nerve to trust someone enough to disclose need and feeling (being) betrayed when that person then went and gossiped about it. It wouldn't be your fault but I would be very careful of this. It's not that it actually is shameful, more that when you're that poor it's like you don't just have no money, you also have no privacy or right to it.

If you do approach them directly I advise keeping it as simple and direct as possible, no elaborate stories to explain how you just happen to have this bag of stuff because of detailed reasons. just: I have all these extra whatevers that my kids like and I know you have kids too, could you use them?
posted by queenofbithynia at 1:28 PM on January 26, 2017 [10 favorites]

The most important piece here is treat them with respect, treat them like human beings.

My mother does not like being alone. She has a long history of having friends who stop by to join us for dinner and take home leftovers, especially late in the month. My mother just needs people to talk with. Having company genuinely adds something to her life and she grew up in a war zone and genuinely sees no shame in someone being poor.

So, this can be done and I think it has a lot to do with just sincerely, deeply embracing the attitude that it in no way reflects on them, "shit happens." We all have things go on in life due to larger factors beyond our control, and if you are better off, it isn't solely or entirely because of personal virtues. Some of that is just luck of the draw. If you can master that piece, the delivery almost doesn't matter.

Do not ask intrusive questions. Do not act like you have a right to know. Do not repeat what the neighbor told you. I see nothing wrong with taking the position that "Unless you are Donald Trump/filthy rich, there is never enough money when you have kids."

Bring it and say "Merry Christmas/Happy New Year/Happy Unbirthday!" Giving them some holiday greeting, no matter how ridiculous or out of place, signals that it's a gift.

Afterwards, do not bring it up like you expect ongoing gratitude. Cultivate the attitude that "It's nothing." Don't make it this weird social thing. Treat them like you would any other neighbor, not like they now need to massage your ego at every meeting.
posted by Michele in California at 1:54 PM on January 26, 2017 [4 favorites]

Similar to what Iteki said: Personally, I'm allergic to wheat, but I love to bake. So sometimes I'll bake a cake or cookies or whatever, and give it away. This could become a regular thing.
posted by MexicanYenta at 2:18 PM on January 26, 2017 [4 favorites]

Your description of the new neighbors moving from a remote location made me wonder whether they are refugees or asylum seekers.

If that's the case, I would go through the neighbor who told you about their request for snacks -- maybe they're comfortable talking to that person because their kids play together or something, or maybe there's a language barrier?

Your kids could go over and offer to play and bring snacks -- that seems a nice stress-free way of getting their kids some treats without it feeling too much like everyone is up in their business.
posted by vickyverky at 2:32 PM on January 26, 2017

> I'd knock and say you accidentally bought too much this week because you and your husband both went shopping and didn't tell the other one (or something). But if you keep the snacks in the house your kids will never eat dinner. But of course you don't want to waste them. Would she mind taking them off your hands? It would be a huge favor to you.

Yeah, this is the classic way of saving both you and them from embarrassment and awkwardness. And then use this interaction as a foot in the door to chat and get to know them, of course.
posted by desuetude at 8:20 AM on January 27, 2017

What are these snacks that you other commenters manage to buy "too much" of? Fresh blueberries? If these snacks are packaged, they probably have a shelf life of like six months. Seems transparently BS to me.

It might be easier just to say "my kids wanted to meet your kids and we thought we'd bring some snacks over to say 'welcome.'"
posted by salvia at 8:15 PM on January 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

I would do a welcome basket. If it has been too long I would STILL do a welcome basket and I would hand it over and say "ha, I have little kids so it took me months to get to this, I bet you know that feeling too amirite? But anyway, WELCOME!". And I would fill the basket with snacky stuff for all ages. Then going forward I would periodically knock and say "my husband bought the right snack but the wrong flavour for my picky chickies, will your brood eat these?" and then still more months later "hey, these were on buy one get one and I know your guys like them".

But, and this is probably the most important bit, in amongst all this, I think you need to genuinely befriend the family so they CAN reciprocate. Not in kind, obviously, but in whatever genuinely helpful way they can. I have friends who have different resources to me, and though it always felt like nothing TO ME to give a carless buddy a ride to a distant but preferred supermarket, it feels like nothing TO THEM TOO when they are being an equally helpful presence in my life in other ways. Poverty erodes self-regard and feeding THAT is as important and kind as helping fill little tummies.
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 2:59 AM on January 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

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