The fallout from the spread of coronavirus has highlighted how many Americans are one disaster away from physical, emotional, or economic ruin. Now, while many await federal and state assistance, those in more secure financial positions have an opportunity to step up and help.
But with so many communities affected, it’s difficult to know where your time and dollars are best spent: Millions of uninsured Americans are at risk for catching the virus, could incur enormous medical bills for treatment, even if relief legislation promises to cover testing; salaried and hourly workers at nonessential businesses have suddenly found themselves without wages, and some without homes; local businesses have been forced to shutter; and an uptick in racist rhetoric has resulted in increased danger for Asian Americans.
Social distancing measures recommended by authorities mean helping in person isn’t an option for the vast majority of Americans right now, but there are many worthy organizations seeking monetary donations to continue their work for a variety of affected communities. For many, money has never been tighter. But for those with a few dollars to spare, they can help vulnerable communities have a buffer long after the spread of Covid-19 is contained. Here are a few ways you can assist.
If you want to help restaurant and service-industry workers
Several local and state governments have forced restaurants and bars and other food- and beverage-related businesses deemed nonessential to limit service to takeout and delivery only, or shut down altogether. As a result, thousands of hourly workers have suddenly found themselves without wages.
Eater has compiled a list of several organizations supporting workers in the restaurant industry. The Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation, in particular, is using donations both to provide zero-interest loans to businesses to help them reopen and create a relief fund for “individual workers facing economic hardships or health crises as a direct result of COVID-19.”
Similarly, One Fair Wage, a nonprofit lobbying for a higher minimum wage for the industry, has set up a fund for tipped workers suffering from work scarcity. The fund is looking to raise $213,000 — a symbolic figure highlighting the current $2.13 tipped minimum wage — for immediate distribution to “tipped restaurant workers, delivery drivers, personal service workers and others affected by coronavirus and the economic downturn.”
If you want to fight food insecurity
The math is simple: The Labor Department reported 281,000 new unemployment claims last week, with more certain to come. As unemployment rises, Americans’ ability to afford food and other necessities suffers. Though the coronavirus relief package sets aside $1 billion to expanding access to programs like SNAP, WIC, and emergency food assistance, according to Vox’s Ella Nilsen, donating money to your local food bank or pantry is one way to make the most immediate and direct impact on your community.
A point of clarification: Food banks and food pantries provide two separate but equally important functions. A food bank stores food donations before they are distributed to local food programs, such as food pantries, where those seeking food can come to pick up items. Both types of organizations are seeking help — but right now, money will help more than donations from your cupboards.
“With funding, food banks can source the appropriate resources they need for their communities — whether it’s household items like toilet paper and cleaning supplies or nonperishable food items,” Kathryn Strickland, chief network officer of Feeding America, told Vox in an email. “In this moment, food banks need to respond quickly and efficiently, and a financial donation enables them to do just that.”
If you’re interested in donating to a food bank, Feeding America has a national database of centers you can support, and it has established the COVID-19 Response Fund to provide additional aid to their member food banks. If you’re interested in giving money to a food pantry in your community, check out FoodPantries.org for donation and contact information.
While volunteering in person is inadvisable at the moment, Strickland says you can still help the work of local food banks and pantries by donating online, raising awareness on social media, and advocating for greater federal support.
For those looking to give to faith-based resources, the nonprofit Children’s Hunger Fund has a dedicated page for donations to help feed children and families hurt by the spread of the virus.
If you want to support those with inadequate health care
Minnesota and Vermont have classified grocery clerks as “emergency workers,” but many of those workers lack health insurance. The latest data from 2018 show that 27.5 million non-elderly people — more than 8 percent of the population — don’t have health insurance, and some of the professions with the highest uninsured rates are the people we’re relying on most to get us through this crisis, including sales workers and truck drivers, cashiers, janitors, and, yes, grocery clerks.
Coronavirus tests will be free, but if someone tests positive, they may still incur high costs for emergency room visits or if they’re admitted to the hospital. Organizations such as the HealthWell Foundation help people who are unable to pay medical expenses, while RIP Medical Debt, founded by two former debt collections executives, buys up bundles of medical debt, effectively canceling it for recipients. Donations directly help cancel low-income individuals’ medical debt.
“We intend to continue alleviating some of the fiscal pressures facing Americans by eliminating medical debt obligations across the country,” Allison Sesso, executive director of RIP Medical Debt, told Vox in an email. “We are also considering a focus on both those working on the front lines of this crisis and those unable to work as a result of it.”
If you want to help ease housing instability and homelessness
A 2018 Federal Reserve survey found that nearly 40 percent of Americans said they would have difficulty covering an emergency $400 expense. With so many people suffering sudden income loss this month, making rent or mortgage payments may be difficult for thousands, if not millions, of Americans. While President Trump has indicated that all foreclosures and evictions will be halted until the end of April, that still may not be enough if workers lose their jobs altogether in the wake of the virus. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has told lawmakers that the unemployment rate may reach 20 percent.
The United Way has set up the COVID-19 Community Response and Recovery Fund specifically to give those hit hardest across a spectrum of issues assistance with such things as housing and utility payments; it fields requests from 1,200 local chapters.
Some United Way chapters are more explicit about their support for people experiencing or facing homelessness, like United Way Los Angeles, which established a fund specifically “to support LA County’s unsheltered residents who are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus.”
There’s also the National Coalition for the Homeless, an organization that serves the immediate needs of people experiencing homelessness while working toward ending it altogether. It provides a directory of local homelessness organizations if you prefer to support those directly.
And some industry-specific groups are seeking donations to people struggling to make rent or mortgage payments. MusiCares, an aid organization affiliated with the Recording Academy, for example, has launched a Covid-19 Relief Fund to provide financial assistance for housing costs to music industry professionals affected by “venue closures, festival and event cancellations and travel restrictions.”
If you want to combat xenophobia
Some Americans — most prominently the president — continue to refer to Covid-19 using xenophobic and racist terminology, putting Chinese and other Asian American communities at risk; Chinese Americans across the country have reported an uptick in racist attacks.
The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which works with Asian American communities to protect and promote civil rights, is documenting incidents of anti-Asian harassment, discrimination, and hate violence in the wake of the Covid-19 spread, and they’re encouraging individuals to report these incidents to the appropriate authorities.
“Our staff attorneys are providing free legal assistance to Asian Americans and Asian immigrants who have been the targets of discrimination related to the coronavirus pandemic,” Margaret Fung, the organization’s executive director, said in an email to Vox. “We are also advocating for greater protections for low-wage workers and will provide legal advice and assistance if possible.”
Fung says online donations are the best way to help the group continue its work.
If you want to keep local businesses afloat
Many local businesses have been forced to close indefinitely, while others will likely opt to close altogether as the economy falters. Still, there are ways to support those businesses, even if you can’t physically walk through their doors.
Help Main Street was launched in the wake of widespread closures by the creators of a restaurant-ordering startup Lunchbox to help keep local businesses afloat. It allows people to buy gift cards to their favorite stores now with the intention of using them once operations recommence. The site currently features a database of 20,000 businesses across the country and allows users to add new ones.
And you can always support local businesses such as bookstores and other retailers by shopping online, or even emailing your favorite shop or restaurant and asking them the best way to help.