Sage Advice: Neighbors Want to Help During Pandemic

By Amy Dickinson | April 15th, 2020

Is it appropriate to offer financial assistance to friends?


Woman being a good neighbor during the pandemic Image

Dear Amy: Over the past year and a half, we have become friends with a family who moved in next door.

Because of medical issues in their household, I have brought over a dinner for them once a week. We have directly contributed financially to their son, who is in college.

Although they have a professional background, they are immigrants (they moved to this country 15 years ago) and now have low-paying jobs.

My husband and I are concerned that they will soon lose at least some of their income, due to the COVID-19 mandates.

We would like to help them financially, perhaps by paying part of their rent, or by giving them grocery credit cards.

They have graciously accepted the meals and gifts for their younger kids, but it seems awkward to just give people money. It seems sneaky and dishonest to pay the landlord and have him say he lowered the rent or something.

How can we best approach this without offending their pride?

– Caring Neighbors

Dear Caring: First of all, thank you. You (and so many others during this challenging time) are helping to keep our faith in humanity alive.

The way to help your friends now is to continue to treat them the way you have all along: As adults who are capable of making choices, including gracefully accepting kindness. The COVID-19 pandemic is – in some respects – a great equalizer. Giving AND receiving: We have to get through this together.

You are right: Do not subsidize their rent and then deceive them.

I suggest that you offer to walk them through ways that they can get through this. That includes helping them to apply for unemployment (if applicable); or, exploring whether they (along with millions of others) will receive an additional government subsidy.

They should be made aware that there is a social safety net in place to help them get through this pandemic period.

If for any reason they are not eligible for these subsidies, explain that their landlord might be willing to reduce their rent over the next few months.

It sounds as if you know their landlord, so you could offer to help them to communicate to discuss their rent. Depending on where you live, there will be a moratorium on evictions; renters who miss payments will be granted interest-free extensions on paying back rent.

Additionally – yes – you could give them gift cards from whatever grocery store they use. Say, “We care so much about you and the kids; we hope you’ll let us help out for the next few months.”

Because they know and trust you, they will know that you are happy to help. Mutual expressions of charity and kindness toward one another is the very essence of friendship.

A quote attributed to Ronald Reagan applies here: “We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.”


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In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068

© 2020 by Amy Dickinson

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