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When Tragedy Strikes, How Can You Help?

Posted by: Bruce Weinstein, PhD on April 08, 2010

In light of the West Virginia coal mine tragedy, you may find yourself asking, “How can I help?” This question is especially hard to answer when misfortune hits close to home. Well, I’ve discovered a Web site that helps not only those in need but also the people who want to be of service in some way. It’s called LotsaHelpingHands, and here’s an example of how it works.

Recently, a friend of mine—I’ll call her Sally--was overwhelmed with caring for her husband who was dying of cancer, and when I asked her, “How can I help?,” she told me about this site. It took very little time to set up a private, secure online community of friends who could make Sally’s life a little bit easier.

A calendar on the site allowed us to schedule blocks of time for relieving Sally of the arduous task of being an around-the-clock caregiver at home. The site, which is free, also makes it simple for members of the group to communicate with one another. In Sally’s case, this was especially helpful, since most of us didn’t know everyone in the community.

If you’d like to raise money for those in need, makes this a breeze. Regarding Sally, it was clear that she was emotionally and physically exhausted and could use something that was just for her. We thought some spa treatments might be just the thing.
(Before you dismiss these as a luxury for someone facing the death of a spouse, bear in mind that this was not something she asked for, but something we wanted to do to remind Sally that she occasionally needed to make time for herself and to have an identity beyond that of caregiver.)

In no time flat, we came up with more than $1,000 to get her a gift card for a tony spa in town, which she has used for a series of treatments and visits. As Sally’s friends, we were devastated about what was happening to Sally and her husband, and we were powerless to do anything about it, but we were grateful to be able to ease her suffering even in a small, temporary way. It was because of that we were able to do this so quickly.

Two important notes: 1) I have no stake in this Web site, financial or otherwise; I just want to let as many people know about it as possible. 2) If you do some fundraising through it and use PayPal as I did, please make sure that the vendor you contract with can accept money via PayPal. (There are ways around it, such as purchasing credit card gift cards, however.)

George Carlin rightly took issue with people who tell the bereaved, "If there’s anything I can do, ANYTHING at all, PLEASE don’t hesitate to ask." Who is going to take someone up on such a vague offer? I was fortunate that Sally had an answer at the ready to the question, "How can I help?"

The next time you’re in a similar situation, why not use a Web site like LotsaHelpingHands to create a community of friends, co-workers, and loved ones who can actually do something, not merely talk about it? (Space prohibits me from discussing the thorny ethical issues that arise when one mixes the professional and the personal, but suffice it to say that managers who organize a community of helpers on behalf of a co-worker should respect the decision of others not to participate.)

Words of solace are good. Actions that bring solace are much better.

Dr. Bruce Weinstein, The Ethics Guy, is the author of Is It Still Cheating If I Don’t Get Caught?. Listen to his free podcasts on iTunes.

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Reader Comments


April 8, 2010 07:34 PM

This is a great resource for caregivers. Thanks for sharing this information. (

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How can you manage smarter? BusinessWeek writers Nanette Byrnes, Patricia O’Connell, Emily Thornton, Matthew Boyle, Michelle Conlin and Diane Brady synthesize insights from the brightest business thinkers, critique the latest management trends, and comment on leaders in the news.

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