Saturday, September 22, 2012

Getting Stuff for Free vs. Being Given Stuff for Free

I've been thinking a lot lately about the difference between getting stuff for free and receiving, well, charity.

As you know, I love free stuff. LOVE it. Do quasi-stupid things for it, like drive across town to get a free printer with no ink, instead of picking up a cheapy printer the next time I'm at Target. Spend time taking surveys to earn credit at various websites. Time Costco visits for sample days.

In other words, I dig free stuff.

However, in the last two weeks I have found myself exceedingly uncomfortable with accepting free things due to my situation in life. Because our daughter is in the neonatal intensive care unit, we qualify for assistance from the Ronald McDonald House, among a million other sources of support at our hospital. The RMH has comfy chairs, a TV, some books, some exercise equipment, a couple of computers, some bedrooms and showers, and a ton of food. Meals are prepared for families by various groups almost every night of the week, plus there is a fully stocked pantry available for us to use at any time to make whatever we want. In addition, as a breast-milk-pumping mom, I qualify for a free meal each day from the hospital cafeteria, as well as for juice and snacks available in the NICU. I could literally not buy groceries for the next three months while Baby M is in the hospital, and we would still have a surplus of food at our fingertips.

I felt uncomfortable about this at first. I felt like I should be a giver to charities, a donator, the one behind the counter serving the food. I am shocked at how quickly my position in life shifted to recipient. I am grateful and humbled by the resources that are available to me. At first, I decided that I would not use these resources, that I would save them for the more deserving. I have since changed my position - the reality is that I am spending eight hours a day at a sick baby's bedside, sometimes watching difficult procedures. I am not yet physically capable of going to the grocery store and stocking my own shelves. When I get home from the hospital, I have no mental energy left to cook. Sometimes, it is all I can do to hold out my plate and say thank you.

Right now, the most I can do is promise myself that when our ordeal is over, I will give back. I will serve a meal. I will drop my change in the container on the McDonald's counter. In the meantime, I could not care less about a free tube of toothpaste or sample size shampoo. It's hard to imagine a day when that will matter again. Learning to accept things given for free instead of angling to get things for free has been an interesting lesson for me.


  1. I think that would be hard for me too. But I absolutely think that the resources are there for people in your situation! Even if you CAN afford to buy your own groceries, you're dealing with a lot!

    I hope baby M is doing as well as she can! Sending good thoughts you way :)

  2. I think as a society we struggle to allow ourselves to be helped. We're taught (subconsciously or otherwise) that to receive charity means we are poor in some way, when in reality it likely just means we need a little help to shoulder a tough load. And the thing is, we all have a tough load that we need some help shouldering at some point in our lives. I'm glad you're opening yourself up to being helped in your own tough time, and I think you have the right attitude -- when your load is lighter, help someone else out who needs it.

    P.S. I'm thinking about y'all!

  3. It is hard to accept help. Definitely.

    But, that help is there for a reason! The Ronald McDonald House is supposed to help families who have sick children. That is their purpose! You should not feel bad at all and feel like you are less deserving than some other family. I have a friend who volunteers there once a month, and maybe that is something that you can do once little baby M is out of the NICU.

    This is odd, because I don't even know you, but if you do need anything, please do not hesitate to let me know. I'm local and could certainly help if you needed something.


Thanks for commenting!