Doing Something During COVID-19

By Liz Hensler
July 3, 2020

First, we’ve got to get this out of the way up top – COVID-19 is not a political issue. If you believe scientists, you’ve worn your mask, stayed indoors, and limited your social contact. This is a health crisis, the likes of which we haven’t seen in our lifetimes. But it’s also an economic livelihoods and social issue – unemployment has skyrocketed and the global economic effects put us on the precipice of a looming hunger crisis. This is a moment when we turn to the “helpers” – to quote Mr. Rogers. However, the public and NGO sectors are feeling the economic effects of this crisis, as well. For the NGO sector, this means layoffs, belt tightening, and in some cases, shuttering the doors entirely.

So, what now? The sheer magnitude of the crisis can feel daunting, and I’ve heard from people close to me that they don’t know where to start; but there are ways that we, as individuals, can ease the effects for those acutely impacted.

Here is a list of ways you can give your time and/or your money to help:

Support your local food bank or food distribution organizations!

With so many people housebound, particularly our seniors or immunocompromised community members, having meals delivered is key to survival. Volunteering at your local food bank can take a few different forms, and you can sign up for whatever task you are most comfortable with. Food distribution centers need bodies to sort and package donated food – they will generally bring in a small group of volunteers, provide a list of items per box, and you will spend some time packaging those boxes for delivery.

Along those lines, if you have a car (particularly somewhere like New York City, where owning a car is gold), those prepackaged boxes need to be delivered. The organization or volunteer manager will give you the driving routes, addresses, and specific instructions for drop off. These instructions will almost always include social distancing methods, like “no contact drop off”, where you leave the package and alert the recipient that it is outside or box sanitation instructions for the most vulnerable recipients.

Photo: My mom and dad volunteering at First Presbyterian Church, partnered with the Allentown Food Bank in Pennsylvania. As you can see, they are wearing masks and staying socially distant from their fellow volunteers. The organization also provides guidance for those donating food, ensuring people stay in their cars to minimize contact! Looking good, y’all!

Find these opportunities!
First, if you are a member of a faith-based organization or an on-going volunteer in your area, I’d reach out to the organization you already support to get involved. Even if the organization you already support does not have volunteer opportunities, they will likely know of someone who does (Service is a small world, friends – we all know someone!).

If this is your first time volunteering, one way to ensure your project is quality and safety controlled is to go through a third party volunteer network, who vet their partners. In the US, places to check include the office of your state’s governor or city’s mayor, who generally oversee a branch of volunteerism, or a third party Cares (in NYC, this is New York Cares). For a broader reach, check out VolunteerMatch or the Points of Light network.

In New York City, there are a few food-focused organizations I recommend: CityHarvest, Food Bank for New York City, CityMeals on Wheels, Part of the Solution Bronx (POTS), Grow NYC, and God’s Love We Deliver.

If you may have been in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID or are nervous about volunteering, donate! Demand for these services is higher than ever, and every bit counts.

Give blood!

With fears of the COVID-19 spread causing people to avoid hospitals and stay indoors, blood centers are experiencing a deficit in the needed donations. There is, at this point, no evidence that states that coronavirus can be transmitted through transfusion. So, if you feel healthy, reach out to your local blood bank to inquire about their safety protocols and how you can donate blood today.

“You can still go out and give blood. We’re worried about potential blood shortages in the future. Social distancing does not have to mean social disengagement.”

U.S. Surgeon General

To give blood, you can seek your local blood center or contact the Red Cross/Crescent in your area!

If you have recovered from COVID-19, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US asks that you donate your plasma. The COVID-19 antibodies in your system may be able to help someone fighting off the disease.

Volunteer from Home!

Ah, the coveted virtual volunteer opportunity! With the start of COVID-19, NGOs scrambled to adapt their in-person volunteer programs to a virtual world. For many organizations that rely on in-person volunteer labor and service areas that require in-person care, this has proved challenging, if not impossible. With a little creativity and digging, however, you can find great ways to get involved from home:

While COVID forces us to be more creative in our service, now is as good a time as any to get involved!

We’d love to hear from you! Are you giving your time or money during this crisis? What are some things that have worked or not worked for you? Comment below!

Liz Hensler, MPA (she/her/hers) is the founder of Do Good, Better. She works in philanthropy in the humanitarian aid sector and has a background in NGO program management, corporate and community engagement, volunteer management, and communications. She is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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