For Those In Need, An Online Helping Hand

When a friend has a serious illness, everyone wants to help out. However, coordinating meals, errands and rides is a real challenge, and many well-intentioned groups fall apart because the scheduling is too difficult. There is a tech solution: lotsahelpinghands.com.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. It's time now for our weekly technology segment, All Tech Considered. Last week, we took you shopping in a virtual online mall. This week, we get into the true holiday spirit. We're going to talk about giving, and we're not talking about merchandise. And I'm joined once again by our tech guru, Omar Gallaga. Hello, Omar.

OMAR GALLAGA: Hi, happy holidays.

NORRIS: Help us understand what we're talking about when we examine this intersection where charitable giving meets new technology.

GALLAGA: Well, we're not just talking about giving necessarily. We're also talking about charities, non-profits, even some for-profits using technology for good. They've really come to embrace the grassroots to raise money but also to raise awareness and to mobilize people. So they're using technology in really new and interesting ways.

NORRIS: Well, speaking of using technology in new and interesting ways, we wanted to look at an unfortunate situation that's fairly common - a loved one or a friend or a neighbor is sick or is grieving and someone wants to pitch in with a home-cooked meal or perhaps running an errand or making sure that someone gets to the house to mow the lawn. And we found a company online that actually helps people coordinate all that goodwill. From this company's Web site, you can create your own local site complete with a calendar where friends can sign up to help. It even includes a photo gallery and a place to post words of encouragement. We sent NPR's Noah Adams to find out exactly how it works.

NOAH ADAMS: Lotsahelpinghands - it's all one word - l-o-t-s-a helping hands.com, not .org. We'll explain the com part in a minute. The local Web sites are free, private and quickly setup. In Potomac, Maryland, Marcy Sussman's friends came together online after she told them she had breast cancer and would have a double mastectomy.

Ms. MARCY SUSSMAN: It was peace of mind before I went in to the hospital. It was peace of mind to me that somebody didn't need to make telephone after telephone call to set it up. ADAMS: Deborah Panitch(ph) is the coordinator of the Web site they call Sussman's helping hands. The members, to find out how Marcy is feeling, for example, just log on and check Deborah's update.

Ms. DEBORAH PANITCH (Sussman's Web site Coordinator): Marcy came home from the hospital Friday afternoon. She's doing well, managing the pain with Percocet and Motrin. Joey and Benji(ph) are glad to have their mommy home but are understandably having difficulty keeping their distance from her. To that end, any play dates would be very much appreciated.

Ms. SUSSMAN: We had a great lasagna meal, which was perfect for the kids, one of their favorite foods.

ADAMS: Updates, play dates and, of course, the food.

Ms. SUSSMAN: Chicken teriyaki with potatoes and green beans. We had spaghetti and meatballs one night.

ADAMS: Most of the neighbors know Marcy, her husband David and the boys from the nearby Orthodox synagogue. And with the Web site, Deborah explains, if somebody is slow to sign up for mitzvah, a good deed, they might miss out.

Ms. PANITCH: And they call me up, and they're like, "I wanted to cook for Marcy but, you know, all 30 days are gone already." And I said, "I'm sorry."

Ms. SUSSMAN: There is, I think, 95 people on that list.

ADAMS: The parent company, Lotsa Helping Hands started three years ago. The co-founders had made money with .coms, and they thought why not put tech to work here. They call it social good for profit. Most of the revenue comes from co-branding. Let's say a health-care company or a hospice group wants to offer its own helping hand service with access through its own Web site, they'll pay a fee to do that. For non-profits, like the Lance Armstrong Cancer Foundation, there's no charge. Co-founder Hal Chapel explains.

Mr. HAL CHAPEL (Co-founder Lotsa Helping Hands): We offer Lotsa Helping Hands to more than 50 national health-care organizations. They get to offer to their audience, extend their good will, have their name associated with this type of service to family caregivers.

ADAMS: Marcy Sussman's site in Maryland went up in November and will continue to be useful. Last week, Marcy found out she'll have chemotherapy throughout the coming months. Noah Adams, NPR News.

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