How to help during the coronavirus pandemic

The pandemic has upended daily life. As we approach the holidays, here are ways you can help others.
Volunteers load vans for distribution of food at the Greater Boston Food Bank. (Iaritza Menjivar for The Washington Post)
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The U.S. is seeing an alarming new surge in coronavirus cases, with the number of hospitalizations shattering records across the country. About 26 million people say they don’t have enough to eat as the pandemic worsens. Congress has stalled on its efforts to deliver another stimulus package, and as many as 12 million Americans could lose their unemployment benefits before the new year. As we approach the holidays, here are ways you can help.

Stay home and limit travel

One of the best ways you can help is to reduce the spread of the coronavirus — and that largely means staying home and limiting travel. On Nov. 19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance discouraging holiday travel, encouraging virtual celebrations or gathering only with those in your own household.

If you still decide to travel or host a gathering with people who live outside your home, read our tips on how to celebrate as safely as possible. If you’re starting to do some holiday shopping, the CDC also recommends shopping online, rather than in-person, or using contactless services such as curbside pickup.

Volunteer Terrell Archie loads up a cart with packed grocery bags that will be available to those in need at Martha's Table in Washington. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

How to help nonprofits

Local and national nonprofits are struggling to meet clients’ needs. The coronavirus has continued to force layoffs and closures as well as the cancellation of fundraising events. Here are some nonprofits that would welcome donations.

American Red Cross: The pandemic and busy holiday season complicate blood donation, so the organization is encouraging healthy individuals to donate. It is particularly seeking covid-19 survivors to donate blood for use in antibody and convalescent plasma treatments that can help those fighting covid-19. Make an appointment here, or call 1-800-RED-CROSS to find a local donation site.

America’s Blood Centers: Brings together community-based and independent blood centers across the country. You can use its website to find and schedule an appointment to make a blood donation in your area.

Boys & Girls Clubs of America: Raises funds to provide groceries to kids participating in its more than 2,500 clubs, plus virtual academic support such as digital activities and learning opportunities. Twelve companies, including Forever 21, Neiman Marcus and SQ Medical Supplies, have partnered with the organization for the holiday season and will donate a portion of proceeds. You can donate directly here.

CDC Foundation: Supports the critical health protection work of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is raising emergency response funds through the Crush Covid campaign to tackle health equity issues, support front-line responders and promote education campaigns about the importance of protective behaviors such as mask-wearing and social distancing.

Center for Disaster Philanthropy: The organization’s Covid-19 Response Fund supports nonprofit organizations working in areas identified as having high numbers of affected individuals and those working with the most vulnerable populations. Areas of emphasis include helping health-care workers with purchases of masks, gowns, gloves and other protective equipment; supporting quarantined and vulnerable individuals; and hygiene promotion campaigns to limit the spread of the virus. You can donate here.

CERF+: Focuses on safeguarding visual artists’ livelihoods. Its Covid-19 Relief Grant program is a safety net for artists facing severe financial circumstances because of the pandemic. Until the end of the year, CERF+'s annual appeal fundraiser is raising funds for its ongoing work to provide help when unexpected emergencies, such as illness, injury or theft; an anonymous donor will match gifts up to $250,000. You can donate here.

Direct Relief: Works in the United States and internationally to equip doctors and nurses with lifesaving medical resources. As cases continue to spike, the organization is delivering protective masks, exam gloves and isolation gowns to health-care facilities in especially hard-hit areas. You can donate here.

Feeding America: Donations to its covid-19 response fund help food banks across the country support the most vulnerable communities affected by the pandemic. Shop at brands such as Crate & Barrel, T-Mobile and the Fresh Market during the holiday season, and a portion of proceeds will be donated. You can donate here, or find your local food bank here.

Feed the Children: Works with thousands of partner agencies across the country including food pantries, shelters, soup kitchens and churches. The No Hunger Holidays campaign will partner with local groups to distribute 1.2 million meals to families in need. Each family receives a 25-pound box of food and 15-pound box of personal care items, plus additional items such as books and toys. Some distribution centers may offer in-person volunteer opportunities based on local coronavirus guidelines. You can make a cash donation here and sign up to volunteer here. If you want to donate food or hygiene items, call 1-800-627-4556.

First Book: Since mid-March, First Book has delivered 13 million books to children in need who don’t have Internet access or home libraries. During the holidays, the organization aims to raise $1 million to deliver 1 million books to students during the holidays through its Give a Million campaign. You can donate here.

Lawyers for Good Government Foundation: The organization, which helps asylum seekers being held in refugee camps at the border and in U.S. detention centers, launched a Covid-19 Small Business Remote Legal Clinic to help local businesses dealing with legal issues or seeking grants and loans during the pandemic. Since April, the organization has aided more than 1,500 small businesses and nonprofits, and it is preparing to help them navigate additional congressional relief, if it’s approved. You can donate here.

Meals on Wheels: Delivers nutritious meals to the country’s most vulnerable seniors. Donations will replenish food supplies, subsidize additional transportation and personnel, and enable tech-based efforts to check in on isolated elderly recipients. For the holiday season, the group has partnered with commerce platforms and brands that have pledged to donate a portion of proceeds. You can contact your local provider or donate to the national group here.

No Kid Hungry: Deploys funds to ensure access to free meals continues for children in need, especially with schools closed. Brands such as Citi, Nutella and Madewell are offering promotions and seasonal gifts, with portions of proceeds going to the organization. You can also buy holiday cards. You can donate here and see holiday promotions here.

Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation: Directs money to organizations leading on-the-ground efforts in the restaurant community and provides zero-interest loans to businesses to maintain payrolls during closures or to reopen once the crisis has passed. It has established a relief fund for individual restaurant workers facing economic hardships or health crises as a direct result of covid-19. You can donate here.

Ronald McDonald House Charities: Provides meals, housing and support for families who have children with serious illnesses and must be away from home for long periods. The organization is working on repurposing some of its spaces for health-care workers on the front lines of the crisis. Search for in-kind donations being accepted by your local chapter. Facebook users also can create their own fundraising campaigns to benefit the charity’s end of year fundraising. You can donate money here.

Salvation Army: Ensures people have access to food, shelter and child care through its nationwide network. Outreach includes drive-through food pickups, community-based food delivery through canteens and meals at Salvation Army facilities; the organization has provided more than 100,500,000 meals since the pandemic started. It also provides snacks and hydration to first responders. There are a variety of ways to help during the holidays, including brand partnerships, volunteering and monetary donations. You can donate here and find information about holiday programs here.

Team Rubicon: Mobilizes military veterans to help people respond to and recover from disasters. During the coronavirus crisis, the organization has helped local, state and federal partners deliver food, water and shelter; run testing sites; staff call centers; and transport cruise ship passengers who completed their mandatory quarantine at home. You can donate here.

Toys for Tots: This program, run by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, has delivered holiday toys to needy children since 1947. You can make a cash donation here or use the Virtual Toy Box feature to purchase specific toys virtually.

United Way Worldwide: Supports communities struggling in the wake of the virus through local United Way chapters and the 211 network, a free emergency support service helping people in crisis. Funds distributed to local United Way chapters help connect families to food pantries and aid those experiencing financial hardships due to lost wages. You can donate here and find your local chapter for specific holiday initiatives.

Jon Pine, a physician, heads into Gallicano's restaurant in Montana to pick up lunch. (Tony Bynum for The Washington Post)

How to support restaurants, cafes and bars

Cities and states have imposed new restrictions on businesses and restaurants, such as reducing the number of hours they can stay open and how many people they can serve. Support your favorite local restaurants by ordering takeout or buying a gift card to use for when you can return safely.

If you want to support servers and other workers, you can also donate to nonprofits such as the Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation, which has set up a Covid-19 Relief Fund assisting restaurants and their workers. Another nonprofit, Children of Restaurant Employees also provides assistance to employees who have gotten sick with coronavirus, while still having to care for their children.

The Judiciary Square coronavirus testing site in Washington was extremely busy days before Thanksgiving. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

How to help 'flatten the curve’

Some advice stressed at the start of the pandemic remains true. Keep washing your hands with soap and water, try to avoid touching your face and practice social distancing. Wearing a mask in public also remains important. The CDC said last month that wearing a mask protects the person wearing a mask and others around them.

“Wearing a mask blocks you from inhaling potential virus-containing particles in the air,” John Brooks, chief medical officer for the CDC’s coronavirus response, told The Washington Post. “But most of the benefit to a mask is to block particles coming out of people who don’t know they are infected from exposing others.”

Health officials are also urging people to get vaccinated against the flu to avoid overwhelming hospitals and medical offices with people ill from the coronavirus and influenza.

How to help in the D.C. region

As families in the D.C. area continue to struggle with unemployment and evictions, winter is expected to push households into even more difficult circumstances. Several nonprofits ramped up efforts to help at the start of the pandemic in March, but many report that need is higher than ever, but donations and volunteerism are down.

So Others Might Eat: Provides meals for the homeless and has been distributing hand wipes and provided sanitizing stations throughout the community. The group is accepting donations for clients and residents who may become ill. A list of needed medicine, food and household items is available here. Donations can be dropped off at 71 O Street NW from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekends. Monetary donations are accepted online. For updates on the organization’s response to covid-19, click here. Holiday giving opportunities are also available, including a toy drive and collection of “shoebox gifts” that include basic hygiene supplies.

D.C. Central Kitchen: Offers thousands of breakfasts and lunches to D.C. youth every week at various locations throughout the city. Central Kitchen has also ramped up meal deliveries to shelters and nonprofits, working with communities disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus. According to the group’s covid-19 impact dashboard, it has distributed more than 2.4 million meals to children, family and seniors. D.C. Central Kitchen accepts donations online.

N Street Village: Helps women overcome homelessness and addiction and offers showers, meals and places for clients to do laundry. Appointments are needed to make drop-off donations, with some restrictions, between 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursdays. Monetary donations are accepted here through the Holiday Hope campaign.

D.C. Safe: With people out of work and confined at home, an increase in domestic abuse is possible. This nonprofit offers 24/7 crisis intervention in the District and provides shelter space. Several options for donations are here.

The Children’s Inn at NIH: Provides free housing and support for children and adults participating in clinical research studies at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. The Children’s Inn is asking for donations to continue providing breakfast, lunch and dinner to its residents. It is also asking for blood donations to NIH Blood Bank and contributions of items on its wish list. You can make a donation to its Feeding Families Fund or provide nonperishable food supplies here. The organization also has a specific 2020 Holiday Wish List. Because of the pandemic, the organization encourages wish list donations sent directly from retailers and arrive by Dec. 11.

Martha’s Table: The nonprofit has been delivering digital educational content to families along with access to diapers, formula, wipes and grocery gift cards. Martha’s Table is also partnering with local schools and the Capital Area Food Bank to provide students groceries at designated sites. It has reported a “400% increase in the number of neighbors needing access to food” because of the pandemic. Volunteers, who will be asked to follow a coronavirus health policy, can prepare food and bag groceries. Donation and volunteer information is here. Find other ways to give here.

Catholic Charities D.C.: Provides legal aid, food and other services to those in need. Catholic Charities is seeking donations of shelf-stable foods in addition to supplies for cleaning and personal hygiene. This year, the group is also having a virtual food drive for the holidays. Holiday volunteer opportunities can be found here.

Miriam’s Kitchen: The organization provides hot homemade meals five days a week for homeless citizens in the District and helps its guests with access to social services and permanent housing assistance. In the past year, staff have served more than 75,000 fresh meals and continue to do so through the coronavirus pandemic. Donations can be made here.

The city of Seat Pleasant, Md., hosted its annual Thanksgiving food distribution. Last year, it gave away 200 turkeys. This year, it gave away 900. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)
Hundreds of cars line up to receive turkeys and food as part of a Thanksgiving giveaway in Seat Pleasant. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)
LEFT: The city of Seat Pleasant, Md., hosted its annual Thanksgiving food distribution. Last year, it gave away 200 turkeys. This year, it gave away 900. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post) RIGHT: Hundreds of cars line up to receive turkeys and food as part of a Thanksgiving giveaway in Seat Pleasant. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)

Bread for the City: Provides medical care, social services, food, clothing and legal help to low-income families in the District. Because of the pandemic, clothing donations can’t be accepted. However, the nonprofit needs food and medical supplies to help people suffering income losses and unemployment. The organization also has a Holiday Helpings campaign, with the goal of raising $1 million to provide 15,000 families with gift cards. Donations are accepted here.

We Are Family: Connects with seniors through the Senior Outreach Network to provide services, companionship and help with grocery deliveries. The group is working to bring necessities and food to low-income, older adults in the District who need to stay home during the crisis. Information on how to get involved is available here.

Central Union Mission: Provides emergency shelter, workforce development, food, clothing and other services to low-income and homeless individuals in the District. The nonprofit, which has been operating for 135 years in the city, continues to serve the homeless with shelter and food through the coronavirus crisis. For the holiday season, the organization has Operation Christmas Miracle 2020, which allows donors to support a child, host a toy drive or donate money toward gifts for children. Information on how to donate is here.

Manna Food Center: The designated food bank of Montgomery County. Their services include a home delivery program focused on seniors and the immunocompromised. The group also provides food on the weekends to children and families that rely on the Montgomery County Public Schools meal program during the week. Because of increased demand since the pandemic, Manna has waived income requirements for food and expanded its hours and days of operation. Information on their services and how to help is here.

New Hope Housing: One of the largest and oldest providers of shelter beds in Northern Virginia, the organization is accepting donations of clothes, cleaning products, food and items for entertainment in addition to monetary donations. New Hope Housing also has a food basket and gift card drive for the holidays, with the goal of collecting 600 gift cards. Information on how to give is here.

Capital Area Food Bank: Now in its 40th year, the food bank works to address hunger for more than 600,000 people across the region experiencing food insecurity — a number that has risen dramatically in recent months. As an anchor in the area’s hunger relief infrastructure, the food bank will provide more 50 million meals to people in need this year by supplying food to hundreds of nonprofit organizations, including Martha’s Table, So Others Might Eat, D.C. Central Kitchen, Food for Others, Manna and others. The food bank has nearly doubled its food distribution this year, up to 60 percent as a result of the pandemic’s economic impacts. Options for contributing are listed here.

Holiday Giving Project of Montgomery County: This program coordinates holiday help for low-income households through a network of organizations, governments and businesses. The effort is seeking donations for gift cards to distribute to families and volunteers to make contactless deliveries. Donation information is here.

Northern Virginia Family Service: This organization aims to help families become more stable and self-sufficient. It’s holiday giving campaign includes Gifting for Families, which hopes to provide more than 2,200 children with a gift or gift card.

House of Ruth Maryland: This organization provides domestic violence victims with food, housing, legal help and counseling. Opportunities to donate are here.

Real Food for Kids: Chefs Feeding Families: The organization works with local restaurants to provide meals for schoolchildren and their families. Since March 17, the group has served more than 100,000 meals. Information on how to donate is here.

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