BUDAPEST (Reuters Life!) - Istvan Joos in Hungary believes the economic crisis which hit the world and his country actually had a positive side: it revived an urge in people to value togetherness and help others in need.
Joos started off a non-profit website called "favours" (www.szivesseg.net) in 2008, just after Hungary narrowly escaped financial meltdown with international aid. The website connects people who need help with others who have something to offer.
People registered on the site ask for food, for baby clothes, for appliances like washing machines, or in many cases simply for a job. Few asked directly for money.
One of the latest requests logged on January 28 comes from a family with children in eastern Hungary asking for a stove or fireplace as water freezes in their kitchen.
Joos believes the economic crisis, however painful it is, has forced many people to make changes in their lives.
"People connect, they pull closer together and I think this is definitely a value," he said.
"It forces people to rely more on each other and therefore strengthens this kind of social responsibility."
Joos, who started off a successful IT business in the late 1990s, saw his own life change radically a couple of years ago when his business failed.
"I failed in a very selfish career as an entrepreneur -- I just wanted to earn money and have expensive cars," he said.
His website was originally meant to work as a profit-based forum for small and medium-sized firms but it quickly evolved into a place of exchange for "favours."
Now it has around 5,300 registered members, whom Joos never meets as people get in touch with each other directly and only post letters expressing gratitude for help they have received.
"Every little help has exceptional value. For those, who are just starting to lose all their hope, and their trust in ... good will and compassion, this is a great feeling. And for those as well, who give," Joos said.
Other websites have sprung up linked to www.szivesseg.net since its creation, offering a place for people to air their misfortunes -- one of them is called "I have fallen apart" (www.szetestem.net).
Eva Papp, 41, who lost her job at a printing press two years ago, asked for a sledge for her 10-year old son Bence on www.szivesseg.net and got one from another family just after the snow arrived last week.
"My son is really happy as he was nagging me that he wanted to go sledging and unfortunately I would not have been able to buy one for him," Pap said.
Another website called "You can give, you can get" (www.ad6kap6.hu) was started off by Eva Csiby who says these forums could teach people to reach out and help others in need.
"This site continuously calls the attention of the better-off to that yes, they should look around at home, how many pairs of jeans and shoes they have which they don't use -- and give them to those who don't have any or who would like to have a better one."
Reporting by Krisztina Than, editing by Paul Casciato