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9 Ways to Help Others During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Alexis Perrotta

love your neighbor hat

If there is one common thread among idealists, it’s our deep desire to help and support others, be they family members, members of our community, or fellow humans across the globe. We understand that for most (if not all) of us, the novel coronavirus feels uncertain and scary. But in spite of those feelings, many of us have still been moved to ask, “How can I help?”

Today, we offer you a variety of suggestions for ways to support others. After all, socially distanced as we may be, we’re all in this together.

1. Check on your neighbors

Call or text your neighbors (especially elderly neighbors) to make sure they’re doing okay. Ask if there is anything that they need (be it a box of tissues or a cup of sugar). If you have what they’re looking for, offer to leave it outside their front door so that they can pick it up without coming in direct contact with you. It sounds extreme, but this is actually a great (and safe) way to make sure that your more vulnerable neighbors have what they need.

If you feel comfortable going out, consider knocking on the door of any elderly neighbors and chatting through the screen or storm door just to offer a bit of comfort and reassurance. 

2. Explore ways to connect and volunteer virtually

Right here on idealist.org, we have plenty of volunteer and action opportunities, and as the landscape of volunteering evolves in the wake of COVID-19, you’re likely to see a lot more virtual opportunities to take action posted on our site.

As we speak, nonprofits around the world are working to problem solve and develop innovative solutions so they can continue to run their programs even as we have to limit large gatherings and in-person service delivery. I urge you to check in with us each day to see what new opportunities for virtual volunteering arise over the coming weeks and months.

In fact, here's one wonderful initiative that came across my (home-office) desk earlier this week. Dorot, an NYC-based organization whose mission is to alleviate social isolation among the elderly and homebound, is looking for volunteers willing to make weekly, friendly phone calls to their clients. After a brief orientation webinar and two personal references, you'll be able to join the battle against the social isolation that impacts some of our most vulnerable neighbors.

You can also expect to see a lot of new platforms, tools, and apps for connecting with people and getting the job done virtually. One such example that predates COVID-19 (if you follow our newsletter, you already know that it’s a personal favorite of mine) is the Be My Eyes app. This amazing app pairs the blind and visually impaired with volunteers via a video call in order to assist with everyday tasks (think reading a recipe on the back of a box or selecting a particular article of clothing from the closet). Now more than ever, there is a need to maintain person-to-person connection in any (safe) way that we can.

3. Waste not, want not

For many of us, the first of many mad dashes to the grocery store happened a while back. And if we’re lucky, our pantries, freezers, and fridges are stocked with the necessities (and maybe even a few treats). But as grocery store shelves continue to empty, we can’t keep counting on restocking as usual, and so it’s very important that we use (cook it, eat it, share it, store it) what we have.

According to Feeding America, each year 72 billion pounds of food goes to waste. A few simple ways to cut down on food waste include storing food in the proper place (and at the proper temperature), waiting to wash produce until you’re ready to use it (to avoid mold), freezing anything that you don’t expect to use in the near future (if freezing is possible), making a stock, composting, and for crying out loud, eating your leftovers!

4. Give blood

According to a recent press release from the American Red Cross, as the novel coronavirus continues to spread, we can expect to see a decrease in those eligible (and willing) to donate blood. Here is what they have to say about the current situation:

“Right now, the American Red Cross encourages healthy, eligible individuals to schedule a blood or platelet donation appointment at redcrossblood.org to help maintain a sufficient blood supply and avoid any potential shortages. Donating blood is a safe process and people should not hesitate to give or receive blood. The need for blood is constant, and volunteer donors are the only source of blood for those in need of transfusions.”

5. Make a donation

While many of us are busy hunkering down and pouring over the latest CDC recommendations, millions of nonprofit professionals all over the world are working to continue to deliver services and implement programs, uninterrupted. And that’s going to be really, really difficult. 

And so if you have the resources, consider making a donation to your favorite organization. Whether they’re on the front lines of the fight to quell the coronavirus, or their mission is entirely unrelated to the current crisis, your dollars will make a big difference.

6. Be a leader

If you’re in a position of professional authority and you have the decision-making power to allow your team to work from home (and programmatically, your organization can operate virtually), make it happen. 

Even if you don’t consider your employees to be particularly high risk, making the call to work from home sends an important message to your team and to the sector by letting others know that you and your team are ready to do your civic duty by staying off of public transportation, out of hospitals, and just generally out of the way.

7. Find your local mutual aid network

Right now, all over the country (and around the world), communities are coming together to create mutual aid networks.

Think of a mutual aid network as a kind of hyper-local COVID-19 Craigslist where neighbors are able to post their needs—groceries, translation services, pharmacy runs, even cash to make rent—and others can choose to answer the call. Find your local mutual aid network or start your own here.

8. Remember those who are still out there on the front lines

Though it may be hard to imagine, at some point, the pandemic will subside and we'll be able to slowly get back to our lives. And once we're on the other side of this crisis, we're going to have a whole lot of people to thank. Grocery store clerks, domestic workers, nurses and doctors, police officers and fire fighters, the people who work at the laundromat, sanitation workers, delivery people, teachers who taught our kids virtually, and the list goes on.

We may not be able to do much right now, but we can certainly get a head start on finding ways to show our gratitude.

Take some time over the next days and weeks to consider how you might show your appreciation to even one of these people. Call up your local police department and ask if they'd be willing to accept a delivery of a few pizzas as a small token of your appreciation (this helps out your local pizzeria, too!); encourage your market to allow cashiers to put out tip jars for the duration of the pandemic; put a box of goods (or goodies) next to your front door with a message thanking delivery people and encouraging them to help themselves; connect with your favorite bars and restaurants and set up a virtual tip jar spreadsheet (a simple spreadsheet with names and Paypal/Venmo information for hosts, servers, cooks, baristas, bus boys, etc.) so you can still offer a tip and help support one of the hardest hit industries. Remember, if any of these gestures involve the exchange of actual, physical money or goods, you'll need to make sure that everything is hygienic, safe, and clean.

9. Take care of yourself!

As they say, secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others. In other words, self-care is incredibly important at a time like this, and ensuring that you’re making safe and smart choices is a civic duty of the utmost importance. So for some, doing your part will simply mean taking care of yourself. And that’s okay!

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Do you have other thoughts on how to safely and responsibly lend a hand during the COVID-19 pandemic? Share your thoughts with us on Facebook.

Alexis Perrotta

As the Senior Editor at Idealist and a lifelong nonprofit professional, Alexis offers job seekers, game changers, and do gooders actionable tips, career resources, and social-impact advice.

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