How to Help Your Community During the Coronavirus Crisis

Scott Medintz and Laura Murphy

Consumer Reports has no financial relationship with advertisers on this site.

Millions of Americans are already doing the most important thing they can do to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19: social distancing

Hunkered down in our homes, however, many of us yearn to do more to help healthcare workers, struggling business owners and their employees, cultural institutions and performers, and, of course, friends and loved ones we can’t visit in person.

The good news: There’s no shortage of opportunities for each of us to help in substantial ways. “For those in a position to help, so many organizations are ready to put your energy or money to direct use,” says Tony Morain, communications director at Direct Relief, a group that delivers medical supplies during emergencies. “And there are others—arts organizations, local businesses—that aren’t as directly involved but are essential to our way of life. They all need help now.”

That’s why we’ve compiled a list of ideas and resources—eight suggestions for making a difference during the COVID-19 crisis—and most don’t require that you leave your home.

Plus, we’d like to hear what you are doing to help in your community. Please send us your ideas and any stories you may have. We may want to share them with the rest of CR’s members. 

Help Healthcare Workers Get Equipment

One of the most critical problems during the COVID-19 pandemic has been the widespread shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE)—masks, isolation gowns, face shields, exam gloves—designed to keep healthcare workers safe while treating others.

Monetary donations to local hospitals and clinics will help them purchase protective equipment. But you might be unsure about where supplies are needed most urgently. Greg Forrester, president and CEO of the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (National VOAD), points to two groups that specialize in procuring and distributing the equipment and other basic medical commodities: Direct Relief and Americares, which you can donate to directly. (Both are on National VOAD’s vetted list of nonprofit groups supporting COVID-19 response efforts.) 

And if you or your company have a  supply of personal protective equipment or other crucial medical equipment, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has an online form where you can detail your proposed donation. Long-term-care facilities and homeless shelters also need PPE, including hand sanitizer, gloves, masks, and disinfectant wipes. If you have extra materials, Rachel Reeves of the National Center for Assisted Living recommends calling those in your area. (Search "assisted living centers near me" online to arrange to have them delivered safely.) 

Feed Healthcare Workers

Those on the frontlines of this crisis need to be fortified with good food, and a number of groups are collecting funds to feed doctors, nurses, EMTs, and others from restaurants, many of which are now only serving takeout. The great news is that a donation will support local restaurants as well as those healthcare workers who are putting their lives at risk every day. 

Feed the Frontlines NYC, for example, raised enough money through the end of March to buy more than 25,000 meals for local healthcare workers and bring 30 laid-off restaurant workers back to work in the process. (It has sister initiatives in Boston, Toronto, and Los Angeles.) Frontline Foods is a similar organization in more than 15 cities around the country. Off Their Plate is doing the same in five cities. And this GiveInKind page lets people send meals from local restaurants to hospital workers in the Chicago area. 

Even some of the world’s most renowned farm-to-table restaurants are getting in on the action. The Herbfarm outside Seattle used a GoFundMe campaign to raise more than $120,000 and has delivered some 4,000 multicourse meals to healthcare workers. And Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York’s Hudson Valley lets contributors sponsor “Hospital Boxes” packed with enough locally sourced organic food to feed 10 hospital workers while helping local farmers and purveyors of artisanal food. 

Get Food to People in Need

More than 10 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the past two weeks, and that number is likely to rise in the weeks ahead. But emergency food sources are diminishing. “The food bank network has received 50 percent less food from manufacturers than they have in the past, at a time when that network is distributing 100 times more,” Forrester says.  

How to help: Donate money or food directly to local food banks. You can find ones nearby using this tool operated by Feeding America, a network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs. (If you want to contribute food, call to find out what they need and how to deliver it safely.) Feeding America also has a COVID Response Fund, which will distribute funds throughout its national network. 

Food banks are also in dire need of volunteers to sort through supplies and put together food boxes, Forrester says. If you’re not at an increased risk for complications from COVID-19 (in other words, you’re under 65 and don't have an underlying medical condition) your presence is welcome. Just be sure to bring the mask, gloves, and other protective gear you wear when you go out. 

Pay for Work Not Done (If You Can)

The coronavirus pandemic has separated many of us from people who help our lives run better: babysitters, elder-care workers, house cleaners, dog walkers, piano teachers, hairstylists, and others. Whether they work in your home or are connected to a local business, many of these people get paid only when they actually work.

If it’s possible to continue paying them—even if only partially—try to do so, says Stacy Kono, executive director of Hand in Hand: The Domestic Employers Network. “Paying domestic workers even when they can’t come to work during this crisis helps ensure their safety as well as our own,” she says.

In some cases, they may be able to continue working for you. Tutors, coaches, and music teachers can offer their services via Zoom or FaceTime. Personal trainers can provide a custom workout routine and motivational email reminders. Your hairstylist can talk you through a trim or hair color touch-up during a virtual consultation. 

Put Your Own Skills to Work

Are you a web designer?  Finance whiz? Yoga enthusiast? Consider offering your services free, remotely. Ask friends to spread the word, or post on local social networking sites like NextDoor. 

Web designers are much in need right now. "Many brick-and-mortar stores have to shift to an e-commerce model," says Luca Cusolito, founder of Creative Enabler, a coaching business for creative professionals, "Businesses may be in need of people who can set up websites, write copy, and photograph products."  

Many small businesses also need legal help to access funds from the federal stimulus package. In New York City, the City Bar Justice Center has partnered with many law firms as well as Lawyers for a Good Government to create a platform where businesses can seek legal assistance and lawyers can volunteer to help. This program began in New York City on April 5, and Lawyers for Good Government plans to roll out similar programs nationwide.

With many bank branches closed, notary services are also needed, according to the National Notary Association (NNA). Some states, such as Virginia, Texas, and Florida, had previously enacted laws to allow remote notarization, while others, such as Colorado and New York, have implemented emergency measures to temporarily allow notaries to work virtually. According to the NNO, virtual notaries will probably need to register with one of several online notarization technology platforms—the group provides a list here—to comply with their state's regulations. 

If you’re a certified financial planner, you can offer pro bono help to those who’ve lost their jobs. The Financial Planning Association and the Foundation for Financial Planning are working to connect planners with clients in need. Go to their websites to find out how to get involved. 

And last, if you’ve done fitness coaching, offer your own online class. Yoga, stretching, meditation, Zumba, hip-hop, tap dance—all can help those with cabin fever feel better. Many fitness instructors are using Instagram Live or YouTube streaming as a way to connect with audiences in real time. For example, several instructors who teach at the Alvin Ailey Extension are streaming free dance and fitness classes daily. 

To start your own virtual session, the National Academy of Sports Medicine has guidance on things like how to create workouts people can do at home and how to incorporate wearable fitness trackers and social media to motivate an audience. 

Support the Arts

Across the U.S., institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles have closed their doors, and many have had to lay off staff. The American Alliance for Museums estimates that museums are losing some $33 million a day, and it predicts that 30 percent of them will never reopen without help. 

"People can support museums by becoming members or provide a general, unrestricted donation," says Megan Eves, a spokesperson for the Museum Association of New York.

Keep in mind that donating to nonprofits can be a tax benefit later. And memberships offer perks you can use when the museums reopen, such as free guest passes, early access to new exhibitions, and invitations to special events. 

Performing artists—musicians, dancers, actors—have been particularly hard hit by the fallout from the pandemic.

Spotify, MusiCares, The Jazz Foundation of America, and Blues Foundation have all set up funds to support musicians who’ve been affected by the crisis. And many performing artists who survive on gigs are scheduling virtual events on Instagram Live, Facebook Live, StageIt, and Twitch. While concerts are often free to watch, audience members have the option to donate to the artists and buy merchandise through the platform. 

For example, on April 11, Facebook Live will stream Human to Human, a 12-hour concert series with musical performances from Matt Nathanson, Walk the Moon, Jewel, Rick Springfield, and others. Viewers can tune in free and make donations through Facebook's "Donate" button. All proceeds will benefit PLUS1's COVID-19 Relief Fund, MusiCares, and Sweet Relief

Theater buffs can make donations to Broadway Cares in support of The Actors Fund, which provides access to emergency financial aid and medical insurance. The Dramatists Guild of America is a national charity that supports playwrights, composers, lyricists, and other theater professionals; it’s accepting donations here

Donate Blood

The American Red Cross told Consumer Reports that as of April 1, nearly 13,000 of its blood drives were canceled across the country due to concerns about the coronavirus, resulting in more than 375,000 fewer blood donations.

So if you're healthy, see if you qualify as a donor, then find a location near you to schedule an appointment. A Red Cross spokesperson says that staff at all locations are following strict standards for safety and infection control. And they've added additional precautions, including taking the temperature of staff and donors before they enter a site, following social distancing requirements, and providing hand sanitizer. 

If you’ve recovered from COVID-19, making a plasma donation to the Red Cross could be especially valuable because it contains antibodies that might help fight the virus. It can then be used to help critically ill patients as well as frontline healthcare workers. 

Read about the safe way to donate blood during the coronavirus pandemic.

Don't Forget Animals

"COVID-19 is putting an immense amount of stress on animal shelters across the country," says Matt Bershadker, president and CEO of the ASPCA.

He urges people to call their local animal shelter to find out what's needed. Many shelters are facing reduced staff and volunteer support. If you can, consider fostering. "Fostering puts shelter animals in safe and loving homes, helps shelters conserve their space and resources," says Bershadker. "Animals also offer people comfort and companionship, which is so important right now."

The COVID-19 crisis may also leave some pet owners unable to care for their animals. The ASPCA recommends that people check in on friends, family, and neighbors who may need additional assistance during this time. Learn more about how to protect pets during the crisis by going to the ASPCA website



More from Consumer Reports:
Top pick tires for 2016
Best used cars for $25,000 and less
7 best mattresses for couples

Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. CR does not endorse products or services, and does not accept advertising. Copyright © 2020, Consumer Reports, Inc.