Poverty Potluck

by admin on February 6, 2013

This is more a question concerning etiquette, and what I should do.

First, some background, I am a university student who lives on campus. I have no access to a stove/oven, microwave, etc. People who know me, know I have no possible way of cooking for myself, and that I get most of my meals from the dining hall services.

I have a poor job and earn only minimum wage. Almost all of the money from that job goes to paying my university fees or I save so I can visit my family during breaks (It’s roughly $120 both ways- which is also how much I make in two weeks.) I don’t exactly have spending money.

Now, I have been invited to three or four potlucks this year. The first one, I stated I could not attend, as I had no way to cook anything or the money to purchase food. My university society (almost all of which live off campus in their own homes), replied with a positive, “Show up anyway”. Still, I felt it was unfair to those who had brought food – so I ended up staying in my dorm room and eating at the meal hall. This short story doesn’t end there. My rather large, strong friend discovered me on my way out of the meal hall, yelled at me for not going to the potluck, and proceeded to pick me up and carry me across campus to the room it was being held in.

There was a second potluck around christmas time – this time I was with my parents and had access to a stove. I happily made my sweet-and-sour meatballs, and managed to get a ride in to the party with a friend. Once getting there however, I discovered I was the only one who actually read that part of the invitation (through a facebook group) other than the hosts. I felt a little miffed, as I didn’t eat before coming and had known a potluck was supposed to happen.

We ended up going out for pizza after my friends devoured the three avaliable dishes.

Now I’ve been invited to another potluck, this one is for the Super Bowl, and I would love to attend, but I’m back on campus with no way of cooking and with no money to spend. I don’t want to impose and ask my parents for money, and I certainly don’t want to make a boor of myself by showing up without food. Unless they (the hosts) express a want of me there even if I’m unable to bring food, I doubt I’ll go at all.

Am I making the right call about not going at all?

Perhaps you are over thinking what you believe is appropriate potluck food.   My adult son attended a Super Bowl party where the guests were forbidden from bringing chips but encouraged to “get creative” about their potluck food choices.  Of the 40 or so guests there, not one person brought drinks which forced the hosts into an emergency trip to the grocery store.
When I host a large potluck, I always reserve the less expensive items for those not particularly financially well endowed.    Two and three-liter sodas go on sale for 99 cents in my neck of the woods and are a welcome addition to all informal potlucks.   Tea bags and a 1 pound of sugar to make sweetened iced tea is also an option.   Other inexpensive potluck items are deviled eggs, potato chips, most potato dishes, celery sticks with peanut butter, carrot sticks.   Readers?  Other suggestions?

{ 110 comments… read them below or add one }

Kate February 6, 2013 at 2:56 am

I agree with our honored Admin’s suggestions, especially the one about the veggies! A lot of people seem to either bring hot dishes or things like chips. But everyone loves fresh vegetables! Dieters, vegetarians and vegans, kids, gluten-free people, lactose-intolerant people, and people who just love fresh veggies. It would be especially fun, as admin stated, if you included different dips, such as ranch dressing, spinach dip, peanut butter, raisins.

My mom makes a delicious spinach dip, all you need is chopped spinach, sour cream, the spices of your choosing, and chunks of bread. It is easy to make on a moment’s notice and all the ingredients are cheap and easy to get.

As long as you bring *something* no one (except jerks) is going to care what you bring or how much it costs. No one is totaling the 12 pack of soda against the ham sandwiches against the green bean casserole, they are just enjoying the party! Sometimes we feel bad about something about ourselves, and we think everyone notices it, but no one does, and if they do, it is probably because we called attention to it! One thing that I bet a lot of hosts would love, I know I would, for an informal party like a potluck, paper bowls, plates, cups and utensils. That way, they wouldn’t have to do dishes after the party, or worry about anyone breaking any, just kickback and relax. You could get themed ones maybe, with footballs! And if there are any left over, just like food leftovers, you could take them home with you, and use them again next year or game.

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Tanz February 6, 2013 at 3:18 am

I’ve been in your situation before, and I usually take some kind of deli-type platter: crackers, dips, hummus, cheeses, cold meats, pate, pickles, cherry tomatoes, etc. etc. In fact any kind of finger food is usually welcome at these kinds of things!

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Pen^3 February 6, 2013 at 4:04 am

I’ve been in this situation.

Although (as the writer laments) many people attend these occasions without bringing food, I always feel it rude to not spend the full ten seconds reading an invitation, or to ignore parts of it. If food is requested, it is rude not to bring any.

That said, I like the suggestions made (except the many that require cooking, which is not an option in this case). I used to buy a big bag of chips (50c if you know where to go), and empty them into a large bowl (borrowed from a friend). It’s all in the presentation, after all, and people happily enjoy eating the el cheapo chips. The same can be said for soda pop. Buy a large bottle for a dollar and you are set. Better yet, if you can manage it, borrow a jug and splurge and buy plastic cups, and the whole thing looks even better.

You will need to spend money no matter what, it seems. Being unable to cook limits things a lot, but doesn’t prevent you from making everything. If you have a dollar or fifty cents that you are able to spend, buy some cheap but big snacks like the ones I used to get and you are all set. If this really isn’t an option (I know how tight money can get at times), call the host and decline the invitation due to being unable to afford a dish. If the host dismisses this and genuinely asks you to come anyway, great! If not, nothing lost anyway, and you avoided being rude.

Good luck!

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NostalgicGal February 6, 2013 at 4:39 am

Admin, there’s no easy out on this.

I’ve been where ramen noodles are an extravigance and no it’s not comfortable showing up to the feed without a contribution.

Maybe if there IS a friend that is going AND has access to cooking facilities…. offering to go in on it with the friend on doing the work for something joint if they will help provide ingredients, and that is even a stretch.

As OP said, she sounds challenged in being able to heat water. If as Admin says someone can ‘assign’ stuff for someone to bring, then hands off the inexpensive but needed stuff to that person, it MIGHT be an option.

Since OP mentioned Superbowl and it is already past at the time of this post, I hope she was able to sort it out.

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Charlotte Vera February 6, 2013 at 4:46 am

Pickles! Put them in a dish and you’re good to go. I’ve also done veggies and dip with just two kinds of veggies in contrasting colors (celery and carrots are usually cheap) and a basic, basic dip with sour cream or yogurt with garlic, salt, and possibly a few other spices (or turn it into tzatziki with some cucumber). My [single] brother sometimes makes a very basic fruit salad with oranges, apples, and fruit-based/vanilla yogurt. It’s surprisingly tasty and appealing. Even a pack of store-bought cookies can be a hit — I’ve noticed that those cheap cream wafer things are often devoured very quickly.

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Marie February 6, 2013 at 5:24 am

As another suggestion: buy two cucumbers and slice them up. No stove needed, and it is extremely cheap. My guests always enjoy it when I put down a bowl of sliced cucumber when hosting a party and it is very refreshing. If you wish to go a little bit bigger, dice the cucumber and add some diced tomato’s for an instant salad.
What is also easy and cheap: buy some french (or Turkish) bread and butter. Very easy, and always very popular at the potlucks I attend.

I also have to give you props for not wanting to go to a potluck without bringing food. Though your friends are probably sincere in saying they don’t mind, it shows you are not trying to be a ‘charity case’ at these parties. However, if your friends insist on you joining in – don’t worry too much and attend the party. I go to a potluck party quite often, and there is always someone that forgets to bring food, or was not able to. Next time they will bring something and I might be the person who wasn’t able to bring any food.

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Simmi February 6, 2013 at 6:25 am

Great potluck ideas-
Cheese and crackers.
Dips and crackers.
Peanuts and other snack foods.
Fruit plate
Veggie plate with dip

Better yet, offer to bring the paper plates and cups.

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Mary February 6, 2013 at 7:37 am

I would think a bag of tortilla chips and a jar of salsa. Possibly a container of fresh cookies from the grocery store bakery.
Have things changed that much from when I went to college? If I went to a potluck, there would be bags of chips and prepared items from the grocery store deli and maybe less than half the table would consist of homemade items.

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Katie February 6, 2013 at 7:39 am

Could you make an inexpensive pasta salad dish? Here in the UK, that kind of thing is popular and I’m sure would go down well at a party. Or some kind of tortilla chip/cheese/salsa type thing? I think you should go to the party… I hate to think of you missing out. Would your parents mind lending you just a little money to cover the cost, or aren’t they in a position to do so?

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The Elf February 6, 2013 at 7:42 am

Oh, this is a toughie. If you can afford anything at all to bring – two liter sodas, a bag of chips, ANYTHING – then that nicely resolves the situation. You won’t get rave reviews but you will have paid your due for the potluck. And your society, who knows your situation, doesn’t sound like the type to bean-count.

Also, check into your meal plan at campus. At my campus, we had a bakery where you could get anything from a single cookie to a whole cake, completely on the meal plan. There was also a little convenience store with snacks. You might be able to find something to buy there to bring.

But, honestly, don’t feel bad about going if there’s absolutely no way to contribute to the potluck. Just make sure the host knows of your situation in advance. You wouldn’t have been invited if they didn’t want you there and it isn’t like you don’t contribute when you have a means to do so. If I were the host, I would happily overlook a guest’s inability to contribute to the potluck in order to have that guest there. I would just want to know about it in advance so I can prepare a little extra to make up the difference.

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o_gal February 6, 2013 at 7:50 am

Note for admin: deviled eggs and potato dishes require cooking. It’s not just a matter of money – she also has no way of cooking.

My suggestion is to see what your local grocery has for sale in an “already prepared” food section. A lot of grocery stores are now offering lots of ready to eat stuff that would also be good to grab for a potluck.

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ShinyFun February 6, 2013 at 8:18 am

My suggestion? That you shouldn’t be suggesting “less expensive items for those not particularly financially well endowed”. You shouldn’t tell someone how to spend their money at all. It just makes the person who CAN’T afford to spare even a dollar feel even worse than they already do and feel obligated to finance your party.

Also, “My rather large, strong friend discovered me on my way out of the meal hall, yelled at me for not going to the potluck, and proceeded to pick me up and carry me across campus to the room it was being held in.”, should have been kicked in the jewels and threatened with calling the police should he ever touch you again.

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Shannon February 6, 2013 at 8:23 am

You’re overthinking this. Whenever I throw a potluck, the people who help the most are the ones willing to bring sodas, paper plates and cups, and ice. All of these options are cheap and very helpful for your hosts.

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Julia February 6, 2013 at 8:26 am

A sliced baguette and a wedge of cheese are pretty cheap and don’t require cooking. A box of cookies also works. A bag of baby carrots and some store-bought hummus or dip. Etc. (Drinks are a great idea, as most others will bring food.)

I think the LW instincts are correct in that it’s not nice to show up at a potluck empty-handed, but it’s perfectly OK to contribute only what you can afford.

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Sadie February 6, 2013 at 8:36 am

Ask your friends if you can make something there. Being in the military and attending schools and training away from home, I live in hotel rooms a lot. As do many of my co-workers. This happens to us a lot since we are encouraged to interact socially outside of work and potluck dinners are easy and affordable. I have found that most hosts are accepting of the fact that many of us have no way to prepare food and will gladly allow us to use their kitchens to prepare. If the people inviting you to these parties are your friends, then I don’t think they would have a problem if you asked to borrow some counter space and a pan or two. Just keep it simple and clean up after yourself. A lot of times I will pick up refrigerated cookie dough and bake them at the host’s house.

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Lychii February 6, 2013 at 8:39 am

Chinese takeout. Noodles and fried rice usually come in rather big portions, and are inexpensive. Your offering doesn’t have to be home-cooked!

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CaffeineKatie February 6, 2013 at 8:47 am

I agree with the others; I’d call the hosts and explain your lack of a kitchen, and offer to bring cups, etc. and keep a stash on hand when they go on sale for just such an occasion. And yes, there are loads of non-cooking options you can learn to assemble for no more than $2-3 dollars–check out frugal websites and keep it simple. I wouldn’t ask to use the kitchen, but that’s because I’m usually running around like a crazed chicken in mine whenever I give a party. If you have more organized friends, that’s a good solution, too.

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Margo February 6, 2013 at 8:48 am

You can’t make devilled eggs or potato dishes without access to cooking facilities, but I agree with Admin’s other points that you don’t need to make or buy expensive items. If your friends know you don’t have access to cooking facilities and say show up anyway, then show up. If the host is happy to continue to invite you knowing you aren’t able to contribute then you are fine to go.

For cheap options:
– chips & dips (not expensive to buy)
– soft drinks.
– cookies
– green salad
– candy

If you check with your hosts first they might be able to suggest something you could bring to help with a dish or with the party generally which wouldn’t need you to do any cooking – e.g.
-bread rolls for hotdogs or hamburgers,
-paper plates / napkins
– plastic cups.

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Tracy February 6, 2013 at 8:50 am

Another option is to simply attend the gathering but don’t eat. As a host, I really wouldn’t care if an impoverished college student guest showed up without food, but as a guest, I can see why it makes you feel uncomfortable.

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Bint February 6, 2013 at 8:51 am

“Unless they (the hosts) express a want of me there even if I’m unable to bring food, I doubt I’ll go at all.”

If they are your friends, be upfront. You have no cooking facilities and no money, and you don’t want to rip them off. There is no shame in being completely broke, although that’s easier to say than to feel. Many people have been or are there, including me, when buying a big bag of crisps to take would still have been out of the question. Many more people know what it’s like to be broke often enough to sympathise. These hosts must know that you have never tried to take advantage of a potluck too.

I am shocked that you have no cooking facilities when you live on the university campus! Is that normal? That’s just appalling to me and not something I’ve encountered before. Having to eat in the dining room must cost a fortune.

You have my admiration for working, studying and budgeting like this; it will get easier, but don’t be too hard on yourself. You clearly have friends who care a lot about you and want your company. They will know your situation. Just speak up and enjoy yourself there.

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Justin February 6, 2013 at 9:12 am

Another option, tell the host that you aren’t able to bring anything but offer to stay after and clean up. You still contribute, the host gets to relax a bit at the end of the party, and all it costs is some of your time.

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OP February 6, 2013 at 9:28 am

OP here!! I ended up going, and brought along a bottle of pop and a bag of chips. I had a very good time, and I was glad I managed to scrounge up enough to bring something.

I’ll definitely remember these suggestions for any further potlucks that occur whilst I’m on campus!! Thank you all so much!

As for those who ask “There’s no way to cook anything?” – I don’t think this is normal for universities, however, my own just recently obtained a meal hall (A year before I began attending), and there is a mini-kitchen students are permitted to use. However, we cannot bring in any of our own food to cook, nor are we allowed to leave the meal hall with any food. We must use the ingredients left in the fridge (usually eggs, butter, bagels, etc. (breakfasty things)). Other than that during “down” times, we are locked into eating at very specific times during the day, and only what is being served at that time. We are also not permitted to bring in our own travel mugs to fill up on coffee or water. The company that runs the meal hall is VERY strict about these things, and I’ve seen students removed from the hall for breaking these rules.

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Dira February 6, 2013 at 9:29 am

Well, I’d suggest my old standby of sugar snap peas, but I’m too busy boggling at the ‘large, strong friend’ who thought it acceptable to not just yell at you for turning down an engagement, but to go one better and kidnap you. That’s more than bad etiquette – it’s criminal, never mind how he meant it.

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Redneck Gravy February 6, 2013 at 9:34 am

Lots of great ideas posted.

A jar of peanut butter and celery sticks and/or crackers
Cut up carrots, radishes, cucumbers, pickles & dill dip
A bag of napkins or sleeve of cups
Bottles of soda, what about a bag of ice – cheap & helpful

Ask the dining hall staff if you buy a dozen eggs can they boil them for you…then you devil the eggs.

Budgeting for a college student is hard but there are lots of cheap options still available. Asking if you can use the host kitchen is an excellent idea.

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Jewel February 6, 2013 at 9:36 am

I recall being so poor as a college student that I didn’t have the 9 more cents I needed to buy the smallest, cheapest bottle of shampoo I could find. I would have had to use bar soap to try and wash my hair if the cashier hadn’t kindly given me a dime out of her own purse. I also distinctly recall my car stalling from an empty tank and coasting down a hill in rush hour traffic to the nearest gas station where the station owner took pity on me and let me cash my paltry paycheck there so I could buy $5 in gas.

So, while several of the posted suggestions are, indeed, inexpensive potluck ideas, even spending that little would put a serious dent in the pocket of someone making only $120 every two weeks. Especially someone who also has uni fees, books, and supplies to buy.

My best advice to the OP is to simply bow out of these gatherings and suggest alternative (free) things to this group so you still see them socially. OR, just pop in quickly to say “hello” then claim another appointment and leave. Every now and again, you might go ahead and take a bite or two if the hosts are really insistent you do so despite not contributing, but not make a habit of acquiescing like this often.

And, don’t worry….this, too, shall pass. Someday soon you’ll be fully employed and these days of poverty will become distant memories.

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BH February 6, 2013 at 9:36 am

Even if you cannot spare a dollar, (maybe I’m being lame) but you can bring a game to play. We like a game called ladder golf if it’s warm out. We bring that (usually with food or drink but we are not in the same situation as the OP- being poor shouldn’t stop you from socializing) Call the host or hostess, explain the situation as others said and if they say come anyway (which it sounds like they already are telling you), don’t feel guilty about it, go and have fun, you only live once!

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Phoenix February 6, 2013 at 9:40 am

I really like the tea suggestion – then again, I’m personally a huge fan of tea of any kind! Box of plain black tea, a pound (or less, some stores sell smaller sizes) or sugar, and a pitcher all wouldn’t cost too terribly much. You could even bring the leftover teabags, sugar, and some styrofoam cups and offer hot tea for those that want it.

The only downsides to tea is that most of it requires the tea to be steeped in hot water and then cooled. If you wanted to go that route, I’d start asking around campus if there’s a kitchen that students can use. At least at my university, there was a kitchen available to students that you could reserve by the hour for certain days/times. A lot of the student groups would use it to prepare foods for bake sales, or to have easy access to a fridge and a large room if they were having a party (one of the groups I was in used it for their annual halloween party every year, having games and movies in the attached room and making home made pizzas and cookies in the kitchen, and when my friends and I stayed over the summer we were moved into dorms that didn’t allow the use of anything but a microwave, so we reserved the room for an afternoon and cooked up all our leftover non-microwavable foods). If your campus has something similar, try to rent it out a few hours before the next party; you can make up your tea, put it in the fridge, and then watch a movie or do homework while it cools down before taking it to the party (I wouldn’t suggest leaving it unsupervised in a fridge in a common area, as it could disappear).

I do also agree with the multiple suggestions of cups/plates/utensils/napkins. The one thing people always seem to forget when they’re thinking about what to eat at a party is what they’re going to eat on (personal anecdote, but I once attended a rather impromptu pizza party in which there were no plans for what the guests were going to eat on or drink out of. We ended up eating pizza without setting it down, and a couple of the guests went on a quick scavenge for a handful of the plastic cups at the water stations nearby – most of which were gone by that time of day!).

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Anonymous February 6, 2013 at 9:46 am

I agree with Bint, but I’d go one better, and talk to my friends about the “potluck” situation in general. You could say something like, “Friends, you know I like spending time with you, and when I’m invited to things like potlucks, or out to the movies, or bowling, or laser tag, I want to attend, but I don’t have a lot of money, and I don’t have access to cooking facilities either. Could we brainstorm together and think of some fun things we can do together for free?”

Anyway, I know it might be hard to initiate that conversation, but I’ve done it a few times, and it’s probably an important conversation to have, because, chances are, there’s probably at least one other person in your social circle who feels the same way, but doesn’t know how to speak up. As for finding free entertainment on a university campus, YMMV, but when I was in university, there were free concerts in the evenings, a recreation facility (gymnasium, exercise room, and pool) that was open to all university students and staff, as was the indoor skating arena. Then, there were the “old standby” activities–snowball fights, cafeteria-tray sledding, TV/movie nights (with movies people either owned, rented, or downloaded off the Internet), “stone soup” type dinners (people combine ingredients, go over to someone’s place who has a kitchen, and make a casserole to share), and that was just “everyday” stuff. The R.A.’s would often organize special events, like ice-cream sundae nights, video-game tournaments, and whatnot, so my point is, finding fun on a budget was sometimes easier than it sounds from the outside.

P.S., About the lack of cooking facilities (not even a microwave?!?!?), I agree with Bint again. Where do you go to university? Everywhere I’ve lived without a proper kitchen in my living space, you could either rent a fridge/freezer/microwave combination unit for the year, or there were communal “hall” kitchens.

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Mary February 6, 2013 at 9:57 am

Bint, where I went to college (almost twenty years ago), the closest thing we had to cooking facilities was a communal microwave in the lobby. My second year in the residence hall, they remodeled and added a kitchen to each floor but each student would have to provide their own pots, pans utensils. Almost all students who lived on campus were on the meal plan in the cafeteria.
Things might have changed on campus in the last few years and this was in the United States. Maybe things are different in other countries.

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Floweramon February 6, 2013 at 10:01 am

There have been a few good suggestions for food, I would suggest maybe browsing the nearest, cheapest store and see what you think looks good/is in your price range. Or another thing to consider is just not going. If you really can’t find can’t find anything you feel comfortable spending extra money on and you don’t feel comfortable going otherwise, your friends should be understanding about your feelings.

On that note, I agree with ShinyFun, if anyone yelled at me for not attending a party (exactly what business is it of yours?) then tried to pick me up and take me somewhere I didn’t want to be, I would seriously reconsider my friendship with them.

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Joni February 6, 2013 at 10:04 am

If you don’t feel at all able to contribute a food item, contribute your time. Arrive early and help set up, or stay late and help clean. You’d probably be the only one offering this so your help would be much appreciated!

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Jane February 6, 2013 at 10:11 am

I think the OP is over-thinking the situation as well. If the potlucks are anything like the ones I attend, then just grab a couple of 99 cent two-liters and you’re good to go. :)

I agree with @Bint who was shocked at the lack of access to cooking. In my college dorm we had access to a kitchen (there were like two kitchens per building). Most people didn’t use the kitchen, but everyone had a microwave in their room. I’ve never heard of a school that didn’t allow microwaves, and you can even catch them on sale for less than $30.

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The Elf February 6, 2013 at 10:12 am

Some of the ideas presented here still require the OP to have basic cooking utensils. There’s no point in buying spices for just one dish, for instance, and chopping veggies requires having a knife. Then there’s the problem with not having dishes to put your whatever on or in.

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sv February 6, 2013 at 10:15 am

I’d go with the pop. If you can afford it, buy 2 or 3 litres ( generally these types of things go on sale during big events like the superbowl) and you are all set. It is not the amount of money that you spend that is important, believe me.

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Mae February 6, 2013 at 10:20 am

I have to disagree with @Tracy, comment #19-“Another option is to simply attend the gathering but don’t eat.” I think people would notice OP is not eating and questions/comments would ensue. That would be even more uncomfortable than not bringing anything. If OP explained, then others would encourage her to eat and that would most likely make her uncomfortable as well.

OP- I agree with the other commenters- you are overthinking it. If you can stretch your budget, any of the suggestions are good. You can get a 36 pack of styrofoam cups at Wal-Mart for .98 cents.

Good luck!

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acr February 6, 2013 at 10:30 am

OP, maybe you can tell the hosts your situation. Ask them if you can come early to set up or stay late to clean up.

Other cheap ideas might be a bunch of grapes or slice apples.

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PNJ February 6, 2013 at 10:31 am

Question for the OP: I know you don’t want to ask your parents for money, but how about asking them to send you chips, crackers, snacks, etc. in care packages? That way, if a potluck comes along, grab a bag of chips and a box of crackers from your stash. I know it’s not what you would bring if you had means to do more but at least you won’t show up empty-handed.

I also agree with the person who said to check into your dining hall. Sometimes they’ll let you get loaves of bread, bags of chips, or cases of drinks all on your meal plan.

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acr February 6, 2013 at 10:32 am

To Bint:

That is actually the norm in the US at many schools. Dorms rarely have a kitchen – probably b/c the school doesn’t want to pay anyone to clean it! Eating at the dining hall isn’t that expensive – you usually buy a meal plan and it breaks down to a few dollars a day.

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Wendy B. February 6, 2013 at 10:38 am

I love the answers with suggestions on food you can bring.

If the OP says he/she has no money, they have NO MONEY. That means things like veggies or a deli tray, which can be expensive!!!! are a no go. Maybe the .99 cent pop/soda is a go, but the other stuff isn’t. Really, vegetables can be expensive, so can deli trays.

OP, if it were me, I ‘d do what you’ve already done…explained that you just don’t have the finances to bring much. Ask if maybe you could bring soda pop or something like that, which is cheap. If they tell you to come anyhow, go anyhow and offer to help clean up afterwards.

And don’t feel bad that you were the only one who read the entire Facebook message…it means you were conscientious! :)

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Politrix February 6, 2013 at 10:42 am

What if, instead of food or paper goods, you volunteered physical help? Explain your situation to your hosts, as well as your extreme discomfort with showing up empty-handed, and offer to stay till the end of the party and handle most (if not all) of the cleanup? I’m sure your hosts would be extremely grateful, I know I would! I think I’d appreciate someone who was willing to do one of the less pleasant tasks of the evening as much (if not more) as those who were contributing food. It would be an extremely thoughtful gesture on your part, and would clearly show your hosts that even though your finances are limited, your sense of courtesy and fairness is abundant and intact.

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Margaret February 6, 2013 at 10:48 am

If you were one of my friends, I would genuinely want you to come even without food. Right now, you can’t contribute to the pot luck, but in a few years, you will be able to, and maybe someone else will be in a situation where they can’t bring much. That’s life.

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Princess Buttercup February 6, 2013 at 11:05 am

carrots and dressing
lunch meat put into sandwiches and cut into half or quarters
a can of olives
a box or two of little debbie snacks
container of lemon-aid powder
no bake cheese cake
cubed cheese
store bough cookies (Oreo, etc)
jello
fruit (cut up oranges)
small chocolates (mini candy bars)

All things that can be done without cooking and cost just a couple dollars. Potlucks don’t have to be fancy, they are more about the time together and conversations than about culinary excellence.

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Kovi February 6, 2013 at 11:15 am

One thing you might be able to do is clarify to the host if ‘only’ food is accepted, or not. I know when I was in school we help the occasional party where everyone had to bring something, and napkins, paper plates and cups were always needed. Maybe your host is already in possession of enough paper goods, but it never hurts to ask. And no cooking involved :)

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Mary February 6, 2013 at 11:39 am

As a note, tea can be cold-brewed, just like coffee. All you need to do is to leave the tea bags in the water, in the vessel, for a longer period of time. Leaving the tea in overnight is usually sufficient, although I’ve cold-brewed tea for up to 24 hours with no ill effects.

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Allie February 6, 2013 at 11:47 am

Cookies. Everyone loves cookies, even the storebought kind, and there are many inexpensive varieties.

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Marie February 6, 2013 at 11:59 am

To The Elf (#33): I doubt it will be a problem to ask the host if the OP can borrow a knife. :)

I also agree with Joni (#31): contribute time. Especially if the hosts don’t have a dishwasher, they will probably greatly appreciate you helping them cleaning up. The downside to this is that you are making the commitment to stay the entire evening until everyone has left.

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Bowser February 6, 2013 at 12:03 pm

Does your meal plan have some kind of Dining Dollar component? At our school, when you get a meal plan, you get a set amount of “Dining Dollars” that are good at the dining halls, coffee shops, and convenience stores on campus. You could offer to pick up a couple of sodas, chips, cookies, etc and use the dollars that you’ve already paid for. And it’ll definitely be appreciated :)
As for the kitchen space on college campuses, at my university (second-oldest in the US) the freshman dorms don’t really have much in the way of kitchens, but all the upperclassmen dorms do. Depending on what dorm you’re in, there might be hall cooking supplies, cooking supplies you check out of the duty office, or (in the case of where I’m living now) you’ve got to bring your own. However, my cousin’s university (in the same state, down the road) students aren’t even permitted to have a microwave in their room and kitchen space is limited.

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JGM1764 February 6, 2013 at 12:26 pm

@ShinyFun:I can’t believe it was 12 comment sin before someone mentioned that. I too had some “friends” in high school and college who frequently found it very amusing to pick me up against my will. It was infuriating.

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RP February 6, 2013 at 12:26 pm

I’m sorry, I couldn’t get past this part:

“My rather large, strong friend discovered me on my way out of the meal hall, yelled at me for not going to the potluck, and proceeded to pick me up and carry me across campus to the room it was being held in.”

Your ‘friend’ KIDNAPPED you? He physically forced you to go someplace you didn’t want to go? Did you call the police? Was he punished for this at all? Do you still have to deal with this guy?

This is NOT OK. It is nowhere near OK. Bad enough that he yelled at you just for not going to a potluck (how is that worth yelling over) but that he used his strength to physically make you do what he wanted is MESSED UP.

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JGM1764 February 6, 2013 at 12:26 pm

comments in*, oops

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