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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone; written in 2009 but still relevant)

In these tough economic times, chances are you have a neighbor who has lost their job or is otherwise struggling financially. You probably want to help your neighbor but are aware they wouldn’t feel comfortable accepting straight out charity. There are still plenty of things you can do to assist them.

Just being sociable with your neighbor can help them. Invite them over for coffee and a chat. Get to know them a little better and see what their needs might be. They may be reluctant to receive any help. On the other hand, they might be very grateful to accept assistance in various ways. Make it a reciprocal arrangement, as there may be things your neighbor can assist you with.

Assuming your neighbor is happy to be assisted, start with food, clothing and shelter, the basic necessities of life. If you have a vegetable garden, offer them a selection of fresh food. Use tact though. Don’t go next door and say, “I brought you these veggies. It should save you $30 at the supermarket.” Instead, tell them the carrots and zucchinis are ready and you have more than you and your family can eat. Would they like some? Similarly, if you have fruit trees, take them a bucket of fruit, explaining that you’ve got a bench full of fruit at home, and any more will start to go off by the time you get to eat it.

Offer them homemade food rather than packets and tins from the supermarket. You might have made some jam or pickles for your family. Take a couple of jars over to your neighbor. If you bake some bread or a desert, ask them if they would like to try some. Make sure it doesn’t look like leftovers.

Clothing is something you may be able to give your neighbor. If certain items of your children’s clothing no longer fit your kids, you could ask if these articles might fit their kids. Don’t offer well-worn clothing or undergarments. In turn, your neighbor may have a good jacket they no longer fit into but you would fit into and like. Offer to pay for it, explaining that it would cost you three times as much at the shops.

If you are a tradesperson or have someone in your family who is handy, you could offer some carpentry, plumbing or gardening services to your neighbor. After you mow your lawn, take the mower next door and suggest that you may as well run it over their lawn too. Next time you do any painting, see whether your neighbor has a cupboard, window or door they might like painted. Say you’ve got some paint left over and probably won’t be using it.

You might be aware of certain skills of your neighbor. See if they are interested in an arrangement where you swap services with them and save both of you money. This can involve a multitude of things such as cooking, sewing, hair care and electronics. For example, if your neighbor is a hairdresser, ask if your family members can come and pay for a haircut.

Depending on your circumstances, you could offer to mind your neighbor’s kids on occasions when he or she has an appointment. Or offer them a lift to their appointment or the shops or a job interview. You might be able to help them look for a job. Make suggestions. Ask them if they happened to see a particular job advertisement you came across in the newspaper or on the web.

If you belong to any clubs or community groups, you might like to invite them along to a function. This may allow them to meet new people and help them get on their feet again. Introducing them to a church group or similar body may be beneficial too. Some people are happier to accept a helping hand from an organization rather than from an individual who they may then feel indebted to.