How you can help people in need during coronavirus

We’ve rounded up a few suggestions of ways you can share your cash, time and supplies with organizations in Washington state.

Seattle firefighter speaks with a patient.

A Seattle Fire Department firefighter speaks with a patient on Third Avenue in downtown Seattle, March 18, 2020. Many hospitals and first responders are reporting shortages of masks and other protective supplies. (Matt M. McKnight/Crosscut)

The repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic have been far reaching. People are sick or dying. Hospitals are overwhelmed. Businesses are shuttering. Many communities heavily impacted by the outbreak don’t have a safety net to fall back on.

If you’ve stayed relatively safe throughout the outbreak, you may be wondering what can you do to help those struggling.

We’ve rounded up a few suggestions of ways you can share your cash, time and supplies with organizations in Washington state.

Direct aid to hospitals

Many hospitals are short-staffed and running low on supplies. The University of Washington’s UW Medical Center is seeking monetary donations, as well as well as supplies like face masks, surgical gloves and isolation gowns to help its staff continue to treat patients and ramp up COVID-19 testing. Washington state’s website outlines other ways you can donate personal protective equipment or volunteer.

Another way to aid hospitals is by giving blood. John Yeager with BloodworksNW says college and high school bloodmobile visits normally supply about 25% of the blood BloodworksNW receives. Now, that’s no longer possible, and many other blood drives have been canceled throughout the state.

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If you’re interested in donating blood, make an appointment online. While BloodworksNW President Curt Bailey says appointments are quickly filling up, a busy schedule doesn’t mean the need for blood has lessened. Because there are fewer blood drives right now, the funnel in which blood banks receive blood has been constricted. Bailey says the current outpouring of support needs to continue to keep the blood supply adequate and sustainable.

“Business as usual isn’t going to work,” he says. “That’s why people need to give and then rebook for the next appointment."

Support small businesses and restaurants

Businesses throughout the state are struggling, as they’ve had to shut down, temporarily or permanently.

In many cases, the only way to help is by continuing to support these businesses through online purchases or by continuing to pay for memberships. Many businesses that have no way of staying open, like arts organizations, can be aided through donations or by buying tickets for shows you won’t actually attend.

Some restaurants are still open for takeout. Experts say there is no evidence that food is a likely transmitter of the virus, so purchasing takeout isn’t an inherent risk. Some restaurants are offering “no contact” takeout.

Another way to help is through restaurant and business GoFundMe donation pages. Check websites, social media pages or call restaurants for more information.

Donate or volunteer with nonprofits

Social distancing, closures and threat from the virus itself have affected everyone, but some communities have been hit harder than others. Michele Frix, chief strategy officer of the Seattle Foundation, says that’s why her organization started a COVID-19 Response Fund to partner with community-based organizations and provide focused assistance to people such as those without health insurance or access to sick days at their jobs, including gig economy workers.

“We’re trying to ensure that nonprofits working on the front lines of the outbreak have what they need to respond,” Frix says. The Seattle Foundation is accepting donations from organizations and individuals for this fund.

United Way of King County has started a similar fund that allows people to choose whether their donation goes toward rental assistance, food relief or wherever the need is greatest. Cesar Canizales, a spokesman for United Way, says the organization is funneling money to areas where it has heard the most requests for help, a good indicator that your money is going toward a necessary cause.

“We get information from people on that ground and that’s how we know where the need is greatest,” Canizales says.

For many vulnerable people, leaving the house to access necessary supplies has become impossible. Many groups providing basic necessities to those in need, like the COVID-19 Mutual Aid Solidarity Network, are seeking volunteers to help deliver the items. Food banks are also delivering necessities. The YWCA’s Central Area food bank, for example, needs volunteers to help pack and distribute the food. It is also seeking donations of gift cards to places like Costco or Safeway.

“We’re currently seeing an increase in community members needing help who have never accessed the food bank before,” Annalee Schafranek, regional YWCA marketing and editorial director, said in an email.  “[This is] due to students no longer accessing free breakfast and lunch programs at their schools, as well as caregivers that have been laid off because of the virus.”

Reach out to your neighbors

Lizzy Baskerville, manager of the Danny Woo Community Garden in the Chinatown-International District, put out a call on a neighborhood Facebook page asking for community volunteers to help some of the elderly people using the garden. Elderly people and others more likely to have serious complications from the virus are being encouraged to stay inside. So Baskerville is looking for fill-in gardeners and people who can deliver groceries and other necessities to their homes. She recommended that people look for neighbors in need in their own communities. 

“It’s important that we reach out to each other because we don’t have great safety nets in place to help those hardest hit by this shutdown,” Baskerville says.

She says it’s important to pay attention to how your own community is affected. Talking about her own community in the International District, she says, “Our president is calling it the Chinese virus, and that trickles down to perceptions about our community, so there’s a lot of things we’re dealing with on the ground.”

Connie Burk, executive director of Kol HaNeshamah, a progressive synagogue in West Seattle, says reaching out to a local religious community is another way to connect with people who need help —  and meet others interested in helping, regardless of whether you’re religious or not.

“A congregation has enough people that you can need something and that need can be met,” Burk says. “There’s enough people to absorb that.”

While many people first think to ask where they can send their money, Burk says, the organizations receiving money often still need volunteers to carry out the work they’re doing.

“If you can do it, do it, and if you can’t, then contribute to organizations that can,” she says. “Sometimes it’s less hard than you might think.”

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About the Authors & Contributors

Manola Secaira

Manola Secaira

Manola Secaira is formerly a reporter for Crosscut, where she covered Native communities, the changing region and environmental justice.