Ethan Austin is the co-founder of GiveForward.com
When my mom found out last month that “Mrs. Gorman”, our next door neighbor of twenty-five years was diagnosed with cancer, she immediately jumped into action, preparing a big pot of my grandmother’s famous beef barley soup. She whipped up a batch and brought it over to the family who was thankful for the gesture. On that first day, a home cooked meal was exactly what the Gormans needed. It calmed everyone’s nerves and brought a sense of normalcy into an otherwise very unnormal day.
As word spread around the neighborhood about the Gormans, everyone wanted to help, and so the food parade officially began. Soon the Gormans had more comfort food than they knew what to do with — their freezer was overloaded with lasagna and meatloaf galore.But even with all this love and (highly caloric) support coming in from the community, it became obvious very quickly that what the Gormans actually needed was money. The Gormans are middle class folks with full health insurance, but cancer is financially overwhelming for just about anyone, so a little extra money to reduce the added stress of bills and co-pays can go a long way.
Sadly, instead of giving money, everyone just kept giving food. Throughout the week it was more food. And more food. And more food. All the neighbors knew that the Gormans could use extra money to get through this difficult period, yet, no one wanted to talk about it. It was the proverbial elephant in the room.
Later that week my mom said to me, “I feel so helpless. What else can we do to help?” For me, the answer seemed obvious. Having seen thousands of families in the exact same situation over my years at GiveForward, I said to her, “They need money, right? Set up a GiveForward page
for them so friends and family can contribute.”
But what was obvious to me, wasn’t so simple for my mom. It made her uncomfortable to bring up the issue of money. ”Won’t they be offended if we set up a page for them?” she asked. ”Possibly,” I answered, “but what’s worse: offending their sense of pride or allowing them to get so stressed out about their finances that they can’t focus on getting better?” My mom agreed with this logic and mustered up the courage to email our neighbor’s daughter-in-law about GiveForward. Instead of being offended, the daughter-in-law thanked my mom profusely. It was exactly what they needed.
I am super-proud of my mom for standing up and doing the right thing when no one else would. But sadly, I think the story of the Gormans is all too common and exemplifies how backwards we are in this country when it comes to giving. We’re more than happy to give money in celebratory times like weddings, graduations, and first communions. And we’re also happy to give money to people in far off places whom we have never met. But when our closest friends and family get sick and really need money the most we choose to send lasagna! I suppose lasagna is safer than sending money and by sending it, we don’t risk offending the ones we love and care about. But I don’t think lasagna is enough. It’s absolutely great for one day, but it doesn’t begin to solve any of the bigger problems the family is facing.
On the other hand, setting up a fundraiser for a friend is the opposite of sending lasagna. It’s risky and can be a bit scary. What if I bring up the issue and my friends take offense to it
? Or what if I set up a fundraiser and nobody gives? Without a doubt, there is a greater chance to fail with a fundraiser than there is with lasagna. If I have learned one thing in my three years at GiveForward, however, it’s that doing the right thing isn’t always comfortable and it’s rarely easy. But it’s worth it! When you open up your heart and do something truly meaningful for another person it becomes infectious and you will want to do it over and over and over. And others will too! So, the next time you find out a friend or loved one is sick, before you jump into the kitchen to prepare some comfort food for them, I encourage you to stop and ask yourself: do they really need any more lasagna?
Ethan Austin is the co-founder of GiveForward.com, an online fundraising platform that has helped thousands of families raise millions of dollars online for out-of-pocket medical expenses. He has had the great pleasure to work with Jeannett for the past year and feels lucky to be able to call her a friend (even though they have never met in real life). More than anything, he is absolutely thrilled that through their work together, wonderful people like Vanessa and her son Brock have found and benefitted from GiveForward.
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