How to Help During the Pandemic—Without Leaving Home

Pilar Melendez
Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

Over the last few weeks, the coronavirus pandemic has forced restaurants, schools, and local businesses across the United States to shutter, and millions of Americans have been placed under lockdown. Millions more have agreed to lay low on the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and public health officials continue to scramble to save lives with strained resources and limited supplies

Even those whose families have stayed healthy are suffering. New claims for unemployment benefits climbed to 3.3 million last week—four times the 1982 record—and were only projected to jump even more as the pandemic continued. 

Whether it’s the sick, the people treating them, or the newly jobless, you can help.

“Social distancing does not have to deteriorate our social fabric, and I think it is more important than ever to lend a helping hand where you can,” said Jeff Schlegelmilch, deputy director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University.

While he believes charity donations are vital during a situation like this one, Schlegelmilch also warned Americans to approach organizations with a “degree of skepticism.”

Skepticism, sure. But not cynicism. These are the best ways to help without getting within six feet of anyone—or getting scammed.

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Help Hospitals, Where Medical Gear Is In Short Supply

“Right now in the medical community the issue is not suffering a lack of funds—but lack of material,” Schlegelmilch said. “Identify who you want to help first, in this case, which hospital or organization, and see what they are looking for, and then use your own skills to help from a distance.”

Here are some ways to support health care workers and relieve the national supply shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE):

  • Donate hoarded masks to local hospitals. Several local organizations, like PPE 2 NYC, are securely collecting PPE donations—such as masks, gowns, gloves, surgical masks—for hospitals and other organizations. Several grassroots organizations, like GetUSPPE, PPE Link, and Donate PPE, also have emerged to fill the supply gap, using Twitter, Facebook, and even Instagram to find ways to dig up and distribute overlooked supplies across the United States.
  • Make a mask. Jo-Ann Fabrics, among other craft stores, is distributing free kits and patterns to sew face masks and gowns for hospitals and other healthcare facilities. “Hospitals are welcoming homemade masks and people can feel involved in that way without going outside and donating money they might not have,” Schlegelmilch said, adding that the tactical work is a great way to entertain and help the community without spending.
  • Donate cash to a local hospital. You may not want to touch paper money right now, but don’t assume a financial donation isn’t still useful. “Healthcare is chronically underfunded, especially nursing homes, so you can’t go wrong supporting health care anchors in the community,” Schlegelmilch said.


Help Families In Need

While President Trump on Friday signed into law a $2 trillion stimulus bill in response to the coronavirus pandemic, financial support will take time to reach people who need it, and inevitably leave plenty of gaps. Not to mention the already struggling families who have to figure out how to care for their children while school is closed, or those who have been personally affected by the virus and its impending mountains of medical bills. 

Here’s how to help families hit hardest by the pandemic: 

  • Organizations focused on children. No Kid Hungry and Feeding America are well-established organizations focusing on ensuring children who normally eat free or reduced-price meals at school have access to what they need. In another form of nutrition, First Book is delivering seven million books to children across the U.S. who do not have access to the internet so they can continue to learn while school is closed.
  • Organizations for the whole family. While there are many GoFundMe campaigns for those who have been impacted by COVID-19, many local charities are also ramping up their services to ensure their community is fed. Organizations like World Central Kitchen, which distributes meals in NYC, Washington D.C., and Arkansas, and Foodbank NYC are also accepting donations and providing food to help families in need. Specifically for seniors, Meals On Wheels will deliver food to ensure seniors and high-risk individuals receive food, even now.
  • Straight cash. Sometimes, just giving money is the best way to help. Give Directly is delivering up to $1,000 cash to U.S. families impacted by COVID-19—and focusing on low-income families and those living in the areas most impacted by the virus. “We believe people living in poverty deserve the dignity to choose for themselves how best to improve their lives — cash enables that choice,” the organization’s website states.


Donate to Your Favorite Spot

“There are huge consequences to slowing down the economy,” Schlegelmilch said. He’s putting it lightly. But here are some ways to support a favorite local place.

  • Get a gift card or order-in. For many spots, something as simple of ordering in delivery or purchasing a gift card can help secure employees for another week. Of course, delivery is morally fraught now, putting everyone involved in food service—especially delivery staff—at risk. But Local for Later is one organization that provides a continuously aggregating list of restaurants and bars that are receiving gift cards while their doors are closed.
  • Sign a petition. While it might seem passive, the “Save America’s Restaurants” appeal had received more than 313,200 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon to ask local officials to waive payroll tax, provide emergency employment benefits to all workers, and abate rent and loans for some workers. These measures have the potential to alleviate financial burdens for those in the food industry that ultimately save their restaurants, bars, and even homes.
  • Donate money to a fund or nonprofit. Organizations like Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation, Southern Smoke Foundation, and Dining Bonds Initiative, which provides “bonds” to workers that can be redeemed for face value at any date, are coordinating direct financial assistants to restaurants and their employees to allow instant help. “I think relief funds are the best and most direct way to help local businesses,” Schlegelmilch said.

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