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How Do You Help a Friend in Need?

A few days ago, Amy sent me a link to a really great blog post on how you can help someone in need, and it got me thinking.  We've all had a friend going through something, totally overwhelmed, and in many cases, holding it all together by herself.  And we're military wives, so we rally around.  We've all been there to help a friend in need. But how?

I have to admit, food is my go-to. My belief in the power of food is near religious. I'm not entirely sure why (although I do think my Southern mother and Jewish stepmother have something to do with this culturally), but I definitely come from the Ruth Reichl school of thought: if I overwhelm your kitchen with food, everything that's wrong in your life will surely turn out fine. Food is love. Food is healing.  Food is magic. And because of that, I keep a few basics in the freezer -- and a few practical ways in my back pocket to help out a military friend in need.

Chicken soup actually is good for your soul. I swear. So the next time you make chicken, through the leftover bones (and any other skin or fat) into your freezer. Then, when you've got a few free minutes, drown them in a pot of water with some vegetables, peppercorns, and garlic, and let it boil down to that magical potion we more normally call 'stock.' Keep some in your freezer at all points in time. If you freeze it in ice cube trays, it's great for your every day cooking, but a few tupperware containers full will be a lifesaver when anyone gets sick. Thaw it (I do so in the microwave) and add some mix-ins for a perfect homemade chicken soup. I like to use some noodles, vegetables, and chicken, but you can always go a little tuscan with kale, white beans, and sausage. Chicken soup will cure most everything that ails you, and what it can't fix, it certainly alleviates. People in need or people who need soup.

Chili is also a fantastic staple to have on hand, and we always have a few containers to pass on to someone who might just need a hot, warming meal.

I also like to keep a full freezer meal in my fridge in case something happens (either to us, or someone we love).  I have nightmares about Bill being deployed and something terrible happening and needing to feed a family but not having any way to do so. Solution: freezer meals. If you're looking for some good ones, we found a few here. Lasagna roll-ups and mongolian beef are always freezer winners.

But your food doesn't have to come from what might be an already-full freezer. Sometimes, you can throw something together pretty quickly and it can mean the world to a friend in need. When a dear friend of ours recently gave birth to twins, we made sure their family had meals for the first few weeks. We used Meal Train, a brilliant online tool to coordinate meals and other services with friends and family. You can establish who is bringing what when (and the recipient can list their allergies and the best time for drop-off). It's a fabulous tool.

But there's also a lot you can do that isn't food related. Sometimes, it's just a little TLC.

When we went through a hard time last winter, our mailbox was bombarded with letters and cards. They were all Hallmark, they all made you want to roll your eyes, and every single one of them warmed our hearts. We needed someone to say hey, you? We know it's hard.  We're loving you through it.

We're still trying to pay back all that love.

And the practical stuff counts, too. Sometimes it's diapers, a quick gas-up of a car, or a gift certificate to your local Target (especially if it's one with a grocery store, too).  Other times, a gift in-kind goes the extra mile. Offers for babysitting, a freshly mowed lawn, or a quick clean of their home can be a huge relief for someone going through a hard time. If your friends or anything like mine, though, they might be hesitant to accept your offers. So force them out! Make reservations in their name at their favorite (affordable) restaurant, show up, and tell them they have exactly an hour to get ready before they're due at their dinner date. Be the babysitter, and come armed with popcorn and movies and pizza for the kids. Mow the lawn without asking. Find another dear friend and show up with your cleaning gloves on and a bucket of cleaning supplies and explain that you're here, you're cleaning, and that's all there is to it. (I find this works even better if you add a bottle of champagne for the person in question. Tell them you're drawing them a bath, they're getting in and relaxing, and you've got everything else taken care of. Who doesn't need a little time off?)

But when you've got a friend in need, don't fret over the luxuries. A massage is *always* a great thing to give, but if you're on our budget, that's going to be a reach. You can make someone's day in a little way, just by showing you care, and sometimes, that's the best gift there is.

I'm so curious: What do you do to help your friends in need?

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