You don’t need an established volunteer program to support your community; joining a cause like Relay for Life or even a weekly mentor program is an invaluable service. But this season, you may find you can do even more—especially once your child’s back-to-school routine is in place.
Believe it or not, those who need community support typically don’t seek it out. It’s often a slow decline into hardship, and there’s a substantial gray area for someone who realizes they are struggling. Hunger doesn’t strike overnight, for instance, and job loss or chronic illnesses take time to wear down an otherwise strong family. That’s why we need to keep our eyes peeled for signs that someone could use a hand not just from organized government, but from individuals like us.
Here are seven ways you can lend a helping hand this fall season.
Distribute the Late-Summer Harvest
It’s around this time that most gardeners have tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and squash to spare. In fact, many say it’s “coming out their ears!” As you give your CSA extras away, connect with other gardeners who have a surplus of certain produce. Instead of turning down their offers to share, reroute that produce to the parent who might be tight on time or money. If you bring it to school when dropping off your own kids, there’s no need for a burdensome back-and-forth to collaborate on a good time to bring it to their home. Be ready by keeping it with you—well preserved—so if the offer is accepted, you can offer it immediately.
Instead of trading responsibility using the traditional carpool method, offer to pick up or drop off the kids of moms who may have a newborn or child with special needs at home—without having her repay the favor when it’s “her turn.” Make it clear that you want to do the driving for a few months, without her needing to be on the rotation.
This favor may cost you five minutes each morning or afternoon, but depending on her circumstances, it’ll save your fellow parent hours in planning and preparation each day.
Be a Mother’s Helper
A mother’s helper is someone, usually a young adult, who cares for smaller children while mom catches up on daily tasks or much-needed rest. If you’ve ever had a toddler or preschooler, you know the constant conversational and physical toll can be exhausting. Having an older child (or parent) around for a few hours can give little ones the chance to play with someone with the same amount of energy. Here, mom stays in the house while a mother’s helper is around, unlike traditional babysitting. Consider being a mother’s helper to a parent whose child is on the autism spectrum, or a mother of multiples.
Offer to Dog-Sit
When a parent in your child’s school is struggling, sometimes the relief of small responsibilities can be of huge benefit. If you have a fenced-in backyard, this task will be especially easy for you, providing that necessary wiggle room in the daily schedule of pet-owning parents.
Host a Play Day
So many parents who are struggling feel guilt that their kids won’t get the experiences that other kids get. After all, many are working multiple jobs while other folks are jetting their energetic kids from one enriching activity to another. But “play days” don’t always need to fall on a birthday; choose a weekday to host an outdoor game time for your kids’ friends and classmates. Be sure to have fresh organic fruit ready for a group snack.
Cook Double Dinner
Sometimes, the best way to build a tight community in schools is to do what parents have done for generations. When cooking one night, make two of it, and take a quick trip to the home of another parent who needs a break from making dinner for the family. Grandma would be proud.
When I was enduring a complicated pregnancy, one friend texted me almost daily: “Headed to the store. Need anything?” Oftentimes just having her grab a thing or two kept me capable of caring for my other kids.
Each year, I find parents are more attentive than the year before. I see it most in the fall, when their kids get back into the swing of school rhythms. But when parents reconnect with one another to catch up on the details of summer, particulars emerge that offer a glimpse into what may still be happening at home. Listen for words like “stressful,” “exhausted,” “complicated,” or “surviving.” Any one of these can give you a green light to think creatively about helping support your community. After all, that’s what neighbors are for.
How do you help other parents who’ve hit a rough patch? Have you been on the receiving end of impromptu community support from others? Tell us about it below!
Images source: Bethany Johnson
This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.