“I think I’m pretty notorious for not asking for help,” says Judith, 48, who lives with her family in the District’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood. “Over the years with Hampton, we’ve just gotten good at managing.”
But when Hampton experienced life-threatening complications after spinal surgery late last year, the couple’s friends wondered how best to help the Pryors. “We said, ‘Please don’t visit us in the hospital.’ It was too traumatic,” Judith says. “You end up reassuring them that everything is okay, and you’re not sure that it is.”
As days turned into weeks, it became clear what the Pryors needed: food at home. Friends turned to SignUpGenius.com, a virtual signup sheet that organizes neighborly efforts.
SignUpGenius’s creator, Dan Rutledge, says he never imagined all the ways people would use the site when it launched in 2008. He was just looking for a better system for keeping track of soccer-game snacks and church functions. Now he regularly receives e-mails describing creative applications that include coordinating progressive dinners and helping an entire California town plan a fundraiser for a sick child.
“I never expected something like that, and it’s very humbling to be able to help in those kinds of ways,” says Rutledge, 39, of Charlotte, N.C., where his company, Skylark, is based. SignUpGenius is free for users; the site is supported by advertising sales.
Since the launch, he says, there has been a definite growth in sites like his and in the demand for more of them. Rutledge says people are increasingly plugging phrases such as “online sign-up sheet” or “sign-up utility” into Web search engines.
On his site, users can watch how-to videos throughout the signup process, and there’s a “Planning Resources” tab with tips on how to organize volunteer efforts, parties and taking meals to friends.
In cases like the Pryors’, it’s up to the organizer to alert the family in need; discuss dates that require meal coverage and preferences regarding packaging or ingredients; and decide who should be contacted for donations. Once the e-mail goes out, friends can visit the site, choose a meal date and slot, and then follow the personal requests outlined in the message from the organizer. On SignUpGenius, the link goes dormant about a month after an event but can be reactivated. There is no charge for the service.
For almost six weeks, the Pryors would return from the hospital to find meals left in a cooler by the garage, sometimes with a bottle of wine, recipes, messages of support, flowers and reheating instructions.
“In a way, it kind of became something to look forward to every night,” says Judith. “The surprise, and the appreciation of the love being shared for Hampton and for us . . . . It’s totally amazing, and I still can’t not cry when I talk about it.”