While there are a lot of ways you may have heard about helping an unemployed friend out professionally (recommending your friend on linkedin.com, proofreading resumes and cover letters, forwarding job leads) there are a number of things you can do to help out the whole family.
First of all, do not pull away or assume “If they need anything, they'll call.” Instead, let your friend know that you're still around, and if at all possible, make a specific offer of help.
Even if your friend has funds to make it through to the next job, it's likely that the family is scaling way back on eating out, family activities, and purchases. This is your chance to:
- Offer to take the kids to and from activities, especially if you have children participating in the same activities. This is especially helpful if you have children on any kind of travel team. In addition to the cost of traveling to compete in another town, there may be hotel room and meal expenses involved that can be hard for the unemployed family to bear.
- Invite the children in the family or even the whole family to come with you on outings. If you have a trip planned to a local museum or theme park, ask if Johnny and Jenny can come with your family to the park. Let your friend know that you don't expect them to cover the cost of the tickets and whatever you do, don't ask within earshot of the children.
- Have your friend over for dinner. If your friend has scaled way back on eating out, this can be a welcome break from meal prep and a good chance to socialize, and may even help out with the family's budget. Keep the dinner simple, though. This isn't the time to break out the caviar and champagne.
- Schedule a playdate for the kids or offer to babysit on a moment's notice. A scheduled playdate gives the kids and the parents a date to look forward to, but a voucher for babysitting may be even more valuable as it frees the parent up to go to an interview or a networking event. If you are able to, feed the kids while you have them. It's one less thing for your friends to think about when they pick their kids up.
- Declutter. I know this sounds strange, but go ahead and clean out the closets and the basement. It's something you were planning to do anyway, but instead of taking everything directly to a donation point, call up your friend and ask if they are interested in anything you're donating. An old smartphone may be an incredible boon to your friend, and new-to-them video games and toys might be great for the kids.
- Offer to help with housework, yardwork, or with helping to fix up the house, especially if you know the family has put the house on the market or is planning to.
- Be honest. If your friend asks you for your opinion, offer it as gently as possible, but honestly. It's so much easier to hear a negative review from a friend, and it is possible that you may be the first and only person to pass something on.
- Listen. One of the hardest things some people face when out of work is the loss of the daily companionship during the workday. If you're asked for help or advice, by all means offer it, but realize that sometimes your friends may just want you to listen.