We will get through this together. It’s a foundational belief that’s helping Americans—and those all around the world—cope with the significant challenges, losses, and traumas caused by the novel coronavirus. Healthcare workers and first responders are risking their lives to save others. Essential workers are ensuring we have more of the products and services we need. Teachers are finding creative ways to educate our children outside of the classroom. Families everywhere are taking care of and making sacrifices to protect their loved ones. And countless people of all ages are volunteering in a wide variety of wonderful ways to help their communities.
When your state and federal governments tell you to stay at home and practice social distancing, however, knowing how to do community service safely can be a challenge. What’s permitted? What’s needed? How do you give responsibly? How old do you have to be? The virus changed the answers to all of these questions, and continues to on an almost daily basis. So we at Fordham thought it’d be helpful to collect and present a list of some community needs and ways in which people across the country can help fulfill them.
Personal protective equipment
In many of the areas hardest hit by COVID-19, healthcare workers are running out of protective equipment like masks, gloves, face shields, gowns, and disinfectant. The federal government and many states have also recommended that all people wear non-medical face masks when out in public—but these too are in short supply and, often, prohibitively expensive.
If you have medical-grade personal protective equipment in your possession, hospitals and healthcare systems across the country are accepting donations. And everyone—be they grandparents, parents, or children—can help make homemade masks out of common fabrics like cotton and donate them. These will usually be for others to use in non-healthcare settings, like the grocery store. But there are some places that are struggling with high numbers of infections or are tragically low on protective equipment that are also rationing non-medical-grade supplies to their healthcare workers. These materials save lives.
COVID-19 has caused many blood drives to be cancelled, critically reducing the blood products that are necessary components of a wide variety of life-saving medical procedures. As the University of Michigan Health System explained it last month:
Car crashes, ruptured aneurysms, newly diagnosed cases of leukemia and liver transplants can’t be planned or predicted. Worse yet, a particular treatment that could help save the lives of people with the worst cases of COVID-19 needs a lot of blood... It takes blood products from 10 donors just to start a patient on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, a life support system that takes over for the heart and lungs. And it takes blood from two to three more donors every day just to keep that one patient on ECMO until their organs can recover.
Fortunately, the Red Cross is working hard to host more blood drives, and has relaxed certain restrictions on who can donate to facilitate more participation. They have all the information about drive locations, eligibility requirements, and more on their website.
You can also help in other ways if you aren’t able to give blood, such as if you’re under the age of seventeen, have certain medical conditions, or have traveled recently to some locations. The Red Cross has put out an urgent call for volunteers to help at blood drives and assist in delivering disaster services to communities. And it even has a separate website called Red Cross Youth that details how young people can volunteer and otherwise support its efforts.
Even before the pandemic, tens of millions of American families struggled to feed their families without assistance. Thirty million children, for example, are provided free or reduced-price lunch at school, and 15 million also receive breakfast. Now things are much worse. More than 17 million Americans have lost their job because of the virus and its impact on the economy, and many more have seen their incomes reduced.
Thankfully, there are many organizations and efforts, both national and local, working to mitigate this harm and help families have enough to eat. Feeding America, for example, is the country’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization. They accept donations, of course, but they’re also looking for volunteers to help, such as assisting at food banks and food pantries. “Fifty-one percent of all food programs rely entirely on volunteers,” notes its website. Plus it encourages volunteering as a family, noting, among other things, the life-long effect it can have on kids and teenagers.
There are also organizations like Meals on Wheels that are geared towards America’s senior population, which is especially vulnerable to severe complications caused by COVID-19. Meals on Wheels provides nutritious food, does quick safety checks, and in some places, even delivers pet food and helps with home repairs and transportation. In addition to donations, the organization relies on volunteers to deliver the meals that its 2.4 million clients rely on. Some programs desperately need new volunteers right now because of the crisis. And like Feeding America, it supports whole families helping together. “You can do it with your kids!” says its website. “In fact, we encourage volunteer drivers to bring their children or grandchildren along.”
General community help and more ways to give
There are also resources that aggregate chartable options on national and local levels. The Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that leads service and volunteering in U.S., offers a plethora of opportunities and information for people of all ages, such as this list of “10 ways to safely help your community during COVID-19.” Youth Service America offers something similar specifically for young people.
There are also organizations that help match people with opportunities, many of which can be done by whole families. VOMO, for example, helps businesses, churches, non-profits, and schools find volunteers, usually for a fee. But in response to the pandemic, it has launched its Be A Neighbor campaign, under which it will provide matching services for free. Prospective volunteers can sign up on its website. Similarly, Volunteer Match is a nonprofit that helps people find ways to give, and allows those who are interested to filter remote and on-site opportunities by city or zip code.
This crisis has led to countless acts of charity and selflessness. Every minute of every day, Americans are making sacrifices to help their neighbors, protect the most vulnerable, and save lives. Any one of the opportunities above has the potential to do that, too.
Be safe and be well, everyone.