Amid this global pandemic, many of us are confronting a conflict of conscience. COVID-19 has left a patchwork of need across the globe, from the health care field, where professionals are working to save lives with inadequate protection gear, to the arts, entertainment, hospitality, and restaurant industries, whose workers have been devastated by the outbreak and the shutdown of the economy.
The crisis has left some of us who regularly donate to the causes we love—whether during special fundraising occasions or disasters in the U.S. and abroad—faced with a looming question: How do we help the most vulnerable among us at a time when we also worry about our own financial footing? And with the threat of a second wave of the coronavirus predicted for the fall, how do we share the resources that we do have when we’re unsure how long this all will last?
Vu Le, a Seattle-based nonprofit leader who promotes social justice in philanthropy and runs the blog, Nonprofit AF, said we all need to check on whether the fears we have around giving are valid.
We suggest prioritizing aid to historically marginalized groups.
“The reality is many of us are probably way more secure than the folks who are most affected,” he says. “If you have more than $400 in savings, then you are ahead of most people in the U.S. If you have six or more months of savings, you are significantly ahead and should give more.”
Le is taking his own advice. He tells supporters on his blog that he and his family are financially secure and suggests they lower their level of support if they need to, stop it entirely, or shift it to other organizations or individuals that need it more.
People who are helped by their community tend to pay it forward when they are no longer in need, he said. “Your support will perpetuate a cycle of community-mindedness.”
To be sure, this pandemic has affected all of us in one way or another, with some communities taking a bigger hit than others. We suggest prioritizing aid to historically marginalized groups, those that center equity and are led by local people responsive to community needs. Major national organizations often get the bulk of philanthropic attention in times of crisis, but many smaller, grassroots groups have long been working directly in their communities—and they’re still doing so.
Regardless of what your own capacity for giving might be, it’s a good practice now (and always) to do your due diligence to make sure your money is going where it’s needed most. When and if you can, check out the recipient’s website to understand the work it does, as well as its impact and scope.
The New York Times compiled a list of charitable organization and does, we believe, a good job vetting them. Consider some on that list as you think about the issues you care most about. Additionally, the newspaper’s Neediest Cases Fund has begun a COVID-19 Relief Campaign that dedicates all proceeds to four organizations providing assistance to those facing hardship.
Here are a few other things to ponder when deciding how and where to give as you shelter in place.
• If you employ people to care for your home or your children, continue to pay them—and tip them generously—even as they practice social distancing to keep you both safe.
• Speaking of tipping, do so generously—as generously as you possibly can, regardless of your regular habit regarding percentage of a bill. This is a straightforward way to support the front-line workers who are putting their health at risk to deliver our essential goods, food, and groceries.
• Before the outbreak, 1 in 9 people in the U.S. struggled with hunger, according to Feeding America. The outbreak has exacerbated that problem, and supplies at food banks are dwindling as demand grows. Inquire about the needs of your local food bank. It might be you can provide something other than money. For example, now that pantries need to package everything, many are short on bags.
• Look for ways to support—whether monetarily or through your time if you are able—those who are providing meals to people who are self-isolating because of chronic medical conditions or to seniors, particularly those living in isolation. You may already know about Meals on Wheels, but what about smaller local efforts? For example, Camp Curtin YMCA in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, began weeks ago to box food from the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank and deliver it to seniors. It has since extended the service to anyone who needs it. Other programs, such as California’s White Pony Express, are adapting their existing food “rescue” protocols and drop-off locations to meet rising need and stringent safety guidelines.
• Look for funds that have been formed in this crisis by labor unions and other groups designed to help people who were employed in industries especially devastated by the pandemic, including restaurants and construction. Many of these funds are working directly with furloughed or out-of-work employees to pay their rent and other household bills and buy food. Check out the fund’s criteria for distributing those funds to see if they align with yours.
• Consider donating blood if you’re healthy and are able to do so. Blood isn’t needed to battle COVID-19, but as the coronavirus has spread, blood shortages have emerged as company-sponsored blood drives were canceled when businesses closed and many people feared going into donation centers.
• People who are undocumented or who don’t have a valid Social Security number do not qualify for the federal stimulus money or many other kinds of federal aid. Consider donating to such families—either directly to those you know or through organizations you know and trust.
• Look for organizations that work with unhoused populations and are providing emergency meals and shelter, and seek out opportunities to help. This directory provides a useful state-by-state list of shelters.
• Help raise bail for incarcerated people or those being held in detention, where conditions are particularly dangerous because infections spread and social distancing is impossible.
• Repurpose your Little Free Library as a food pantry.
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