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When The Tables Are Turned, Are You There For Me?

A good friend of my family, let’s call her Abby, who has a good heart came up with this event. She decided to host a spaghetti dinner to raise money for her FIL who has Multiple Sclerosis . The money raised would go to the foundation he belonged to so nothing collected from the dinner would actually go to her or her husband or to her FIL. She thought this would be a fabulous idea to raise money. She would cook a spaghetti dinner for all of her friends and invite them over on 2 consecutive Saturdays and ask people to either donate via the foundation’s website or there would be a place to donate money at the dinner. There was no set amount for the donation so realistically her neighbors could show up with their entire family in tow, all have their fill of the spaghetti and donate $5. As far as I know, she was buying all of the food and doing the cooking herself. Her house is lovely, but not large and could only accommodate a limited amount of people who would need to sit at a table in order to eat spaghetti.

She also intended on having silent auctions where the guests would bid on items that others had donated. For example, my sister, who is a hairdresser donated a free haircut to the dinner. People would bid on the haircut and the highest bid would pay to get the haircut. My sister called me up to discuss Abby’s plans and we both thought it was a mistake to hold a charity dinner of this nature at her home and impose or obligate all of friends (including all of my family) to come and donate to her FIL’s cause. We suggested selling hoagies, candy bars, etc. but Abby thought the spaghetti dinner was just such a good idea and she couldn’t be swayed. I know her FIL very limitedly. I don’t have many occasions to socialize with him and while I agree the cause is a good one, I’m not exactly bursting with enthusiasm to donate my money and to spend an entire evening eating spaghetti for it. I have other causes that I willingly donate my time and money to. I would have probably bought a hoagie from her, or several candy bars without batting an eyelash but even I didn’t want to attend the dinner and she is a dear friend. Email invitations went out and she told everyone to RSVP quickly since seating is “limited.” Abby is like our family, and has done many wonderful things for my family over the years. None of us felt we could say no. Almost immediately, 6 couples RSVP’d that they could not attend. Abby actually thought it was because they all had scheduling conflicts with the original dates she chose so she emailed everyone again to say she mixed up the dates and sent out the invite again. Save from my family, the 2nd email had produced zero RSVPs.

Last I heard Abby was thinking of canceling the dinner. It wouldn’t be much of a charity event if only the 5 people from my family attended but I haven’t received an email canceling the event as yet. In my estimation, her heart was in the right place but she was going about this all wrong. All of the food should be donated by others that are willing to support the cause and get advertisement for their establishment or business for free in return. She should have found a venue that was willing to donate an afternoon, evening or day and then advertised around town for everyone to come for the dinner to support MS. In that way she could have many people come and raise money instead of the limited people (i.e. her friends) she invited to support the charity. 0327-14

So, she is a “dear friend” who is “like our family”  and “has done many wonderful things for my family over the years” but when the tables are turned and you and your sister have an opportunity to do a “wonderful thing” for Abby’s family, you are weighing the cost to you and your families and finding it too much of a burden.

There are times in our relationships when we support friends and family even when we think they are making a mistake, particularly a well-intentioned, goodhearted attempt to try something new or different that we have a strong suspicion might not be the best idea.   You have to give people the chance to try and maybe fail and learn from it.    From my seat in the peanut gallery, Abby is at least doing something proactive whereas you are only offering her negative feedback about how to host an event you wouldn’t host yourself.   You could have viewed Abby’s dinner as a beginner’s trial run which teaches her better ways of fundraising or prepares her to host even larger events.   I’m a big advocate of beginning with small steps which gives a foundation of success for larger steps.

You submitted the story to cast Abby in the role of the etiquette clod but to be honest, you and your sister come across as thinking only of how this affects you.



Comments on this entry are closed.

  • just4kicks April 3, 2014, 11:27 am

    My thinking may be clouded because I have witnessed the slow decline of my own dear father who was diagnosed with MS a few years back. I agree with the admin that if she is such a good friend, why WOULDN’T you support her in this venture?!? It sounds like a wonderful idea to me. There are many ways you could help if you don’t have extra cash to give. Really, how much does spaghetti and sauce cost? You could purchase some, offer to help cook/serve/clean up. No one has a gun to you or your sister’s head to attend. If you don’t want to go, don’t. I think it’s mean to chastise someone who, in her own way, is helping a family member. My Dad has good days and bad days, and sadly, the bad are beginning to outweigh the good. My oldest son, who is driving now, went to visit his grandparents, and broke down crying when he got home because “Grandpa looked really bad today, I wish I could help him.” I think it’s a lovely gesture to throw a small fund raiser, and I hope she gets a large turnout.

  • Enna April 3, 2014, 11:40 am

    I’m with the Admin and the posters who are asking why the OP submitted this story? If I was on good terms with Abby I would go… if I had resevations about going I woud not go and just say I won’t be going. If something is not your cup of tea you don’t have to drink it, but it’s not bad – someone else will enjoy it!

  • Mojo April 3, 2014, 12:33 pm

    Last year a friend of mine put on an evening event for charity. It wasn’t my scene, but I paid the £5 and attended, just to support her. Only seven people bothered to turn up, and she lost money on the venue.

    Go, support her in what she’s doing, whether you think it’s a good idea or note. She may need you more than ever.

  • AnaLuisa April 4, 2014, 1:30 am

    One more thing:

    I would view very differently if the help involved was aimed DIRECTLY at the person in question, and was to cover some immediate need/prevent an imminent danger or damage/ease the life of the person or his family. In such a case, I would consider much more understandable the idea of “a friend should be there for the other friend in times of need.” For example, if Abby needed to foot the FIL’s hospital bill, or to buy a wheelchair for him/finance a helper or something along these lines, I would be more than game to chip in, without her having to organize anything like the dinner “in return”.

    But I view a contribution to the foundation rather as a gesture of good will than an emergency. And in this sense, I do not see any reason why it would be so bad NOT to contribute.

    And – sorry for that, but I just have to say it – I feel that some posters are trying to induce a guilt trip in a situation which is by no means an urgency, and in my eyes, they would deserve at least a short stay in one of the e-hell’s cauldrons for that.

    • LizaJane April 4, 2014, 6:08 am

      Excellent point.

      • Joanna April 22, 2014, 9:31 am

        As an individual who personally suffers from two very serious and rare diseases, I’ve taken part in several fundraisers, both via other hosts and ones I’ve done myself.

        True, it’s not like you’re raising money for the personal hospital bill or medication. But it’s also true that when you are diagnosed with a serious illness like this, you tend to view the big picture differently. You want to raise money for further research, for trials, for medications to help fellow patients that aren’t as fortunate as you are. If you or your loved one are unfortunate enough to be in this situation, then yes, raising money for the overall cause kind of IS the same as raising it for yourself personally — even more so, IMO.

  • :) April 4, 2014, 3:20 am

    I just thought that abby has probably had to go to her share of events of the ops family and bring gifts etc and now abby is probably at her wits end and has come up with this. Yeah it probably is in some way unintentional emotional blackmail. So who cares? Abby probably felt obliged to do a lot of crap for the OP she would have rather not done. That is friendship. And yes it may have been awkward. But that is what friends DO. THEY SHOW UP. Then, they keep their traps shut and accept that complaining on the interwebs is pointless because Abby probably hated your kids/families events too and probably felt like she wasn’t getting her moneys worth buying your kid a birthday present. But here is the difference-she probably didn’t blab all over here.

    • Rap April 4, 2014, 10:59 am

      Wow, assumptions a plenty 🙂

      I’ll make an assumption and also point out one fact. The assumption is that I doubt that this relationship has been entirely onesided from the get go, with Abby going to events she hates and giving gifts and not once has the evil OP recipricated… and I find it a little offensive that you’re vilifying the OP for not SHOWING UP when in fact the OP IS SHOWING UP for Abby’s event.

      If Abby should be playing the “your events sucked too!” card, she really should be playing it with the six other couples who declined to support her even even after she rescheduled it for them.

  • Kate April 4, 2014, 5:05 am

    I’ve actually never heard of this before, and it’s a tricky one.
    On the one hand, you could pay $5 as OP suggests and get a cheap meal out of it. Plus, it’s not as if guests are being asked to donate to a particularly controversial cause, like right-to-lifers or a White Power organisation or something. On the other hand, there are several reasons why people might reasonably object to this sort of dinner (hygiene concerns, allergies, knowing their friend is a lousy cook, can’t afford it etc).

    For me, it would come down to two things – the closeness of the friend and the nature of the charity. For example, if a casual acquaintance of mine hosted a fundraiser to sponsor anything I didn’t believe in, I’d be politely declining. But if one of my best mates was fundraising for a charity I agreed with, I’d help out. Perhaps they would then be there to support me if I chose to do something similar for a cause close to my heart.

  • Allie April 5, 2014, 9:48 am

    I have to agree with Admin here. Eating a plate of spaghetti for a few dollars hardly seems like such a big thing to do for a dear friend. Humour the poor woman, for heaven’s sake. She’s doing what she needs to do to cope with her FIL’s diagnosis.

  • schnickelfritz April 5, 2014, 10:16 am

    I totally agree with AnaLuisa – everyone has a loved one with a terrible disease. I would not try to collect funds, for a huge organization, from my friends. I would have to have a “spaghetti dinner” or whatever several times a year. How can you collect for you sister’s, mother’s, brother’s, aunt’s disease – to be fair. People donate to these organizations as they wish.

    I would totally support my friend, if they were collecting for a DIRECT benefit to their loved one. Like paying their utility bills, or helping with rides to treatments, etc. These big charities are often questionable. Those motorcycle runs for a specific person, to help a family struggling with bills and disease, are a great idea. People would rather give direct, and feel good about a closer connection to help someone personally.

    I am very careful with my charitable money – I give to very local organizations (food banks, homeless havens to help people with a bed at night, showers, meals, clothing and job training, etc.) I don’t support the large mega organizations – and my immediate family has it all, believe me. MS, cancer, diabetes, heart disease etc. I get a bigger bang for my buck, by helping them directly. My sister would rather have a ride 100 miles r/t for her treatment, I take a vacation day from work (as my other sister does too) to get her to her treatment. Abby would be better off writing her own check to this organization, rather than collecting from her friends. Sure, have a party – but asking for donations for a mega-organization is not a great idea, and I would not like the feeling of “your not really my friend if you don’t contribute”. Your guests may look at that $5 and think, hey – what about my Mom’s disease, I want my charity money to go there! Donations are very, very personal, and yes, to some, $5.00 does make a difference in their pocket book. They may want to buy their own grandma a pair of gloves instead.

    And, all of you above bashing the OP, I hope you read the submission again. SHE IS THE ONLY ONE SUPPORTING HER FRIEND!

  • AnaLuisa April 7, 2014, 3:03 am

    As I read some of the comments, I feel something is wrong.

    Usually, e-hellions tend to support assertive behaviour, setting the limits, not falling for emotional blackmail…. and now I am reading things like “Abby definitely had to do things for you she in fact disliked, she had to buy presents for your spoiled brats, so you OWE her a favour and if you refuse, you are a not a true friend, bad, bad girl”.

    I utterly disagree with the basic assumption that my friends MUST (and probably DO) often do things for me they loathe just because we are friends, without me even knowing, and that they are entitled at any time to use this as an instrument to force me to do what they want me to if I am not sufficiently willing to do it myself.

    I think there are several reasons why this should NOT be a part of a true friendship.

    First, friends are autonomous persons and if they are together, it is because they WANT to, not because they SHOULD feel an OBLIGATION although they would never choose it themselves. I just cannot imagine a friendship based on an OBLIGATION.

    Second, if I do something for someone, it is based primarily on whether I WANT to do it, and whether I can AFFORD it. So if Abby was doing over all those years for OP’s family something she really did not WANT to do, only to be able to REQUIRE and GET (I even think the right word would be EXTORT) from them things they really did not want to do for her/give her just because they would be grateful…. do you really think THIS is what friendship is/should be about?

    I view friendship as a VOLUNTARY union with people in whose company I feel good, and vice versa. I feel free to anytime politely refuse a friend’s invitation/request and vice versa if I don’t feel like it, without anybody feeling offended, any need to blackmail (if you do not do this for me, I will not do things for you in the future) or retaliate. If I feel that I cannot do the favour my friend is asking me for, I should be able to do so freely without a fear that it might damage our friendship in the future. We are not here to solve each other’s lives, for Pete’s sake! It is true that I’d be more likely to bend over backwards for a person who has done the same for me in the past but he/she should NEVER use that as a stick to guilt me into doing what I basically do not want to/cannot afford to do. And I am happy if my friends are frank with me in this sense (ie if they do not feel like coming/doing something, they are not afraid to say so). There are many other occasions they/we DO come and DO help, so where’s the point of ALWAYS consenting, or else…?

    I would be appalled if my friend told me after many years of friendship that he/she hated many things he/she had done for me, and that I was now obliged to “repay” these favours. I’d feel entitled then to ask “why did you not tell me then? I would probably have understood and by no means would I have forced you to do what you did not really want to. I do not feel responsible for your decisions, I think this is YOUR problem, not mine, and I do not feel obliged to do any favours for you on the basis of such a terrible guilt trip you are trying to send me on.” And it would probably damage our relationship for good.

    I know that this was by no means Abby’s intention, but some answers here seemed – to my amazement – to make OP feel guilty on the above basis. I feel this as utterly injust towards her, a wrong thing to do in general and in my eyes, they deserve a direct chute to one of the deeper E-hell’s levels.

    Sorry for the criticism, but I had to say this.

  • Joanna April 22, 2014, 9:27 am

    Having put on a fundraiser myself a few years ago for a particular illness, and thus knowing just how difficult it was, I tend to side with Abby here.

    The LW is such a great friend, but is “not exactly bursting with enthusiasm” to donate money or spend an evening eating spaghetti?? WTF?? First of all, she herself says she could eat her fill for $5; and if you write a check, it’s tax deductible, so is this really such an issue? Secondly, I’m sure nobody expects her to spend the entire evening there. She’d have to eat dinner that night SOMEWHERE; why not at Abby’s? Eat your spaghetti, exchange a few pleasantries with friends, and take off…within the hour, if that’s what you want.

    LW fails, big time.

  • BagLady April 24, 2014, 12:00 pm

    This strikes me as simple cognitive dissonance on the OP’s part. She’s having trouble wrapping her mind around the idea of an ordinary person in an ordinary house hosting a by-invitation fundraising dinner for charity. (Some very rich people might, but they have big houses and yards, not to mention friends with big bank accounts.)

    In my world — and probably in hers — people don’t *do* that. It isn’t rude, it isn’t against the law, it’s just not done. Because it’s inefficient. Abby can’t fit that many people in her home, she’s footing the bill for the food (which will cut into the amount the charity gets), and she’s only inviting people she knows, so if those folks can’t come, she’s pretty much out of luck.

    Fundraising events around here are open to the public and well advertised. And they are rarely if ever the work of one person — they are community efforts. That’s why the OP has all these ideas about what Abby should do differently — that is the type of fundraising she’s used to.

    People aren’t going to take time out of their busy lives to attend a fundraising event (as opposed to just writing a check) unless they get some bang for their buck. That means entertainment as well as food/drink. Live music, carnival games, contests, bounce houses … or all of the above. None of which has to break the bank if those goods and services are donated. But spaghetti at someone’s house isn’t going to get a lot of folks off their couches.

    But the fact remains that OP is *going* to Amy’s dinner, provided it doesn’t get canceled. Please remember that, all of you who are calling her selfish or a bad friend. She has expressed she’s not enthusiastic about attending, but she *is going*, because she wants to support her friend.

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