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Coronavirus charities: How to help communities across the world

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Times of crisis can bring out the worst in people, but they also, undoubtedly, draw out humanity’s best instincts too. From residents of cities across Europe stepping onto their balconies each evening to applaud the country’s healthcare workers; to perfume, alcohol, and clothing companies pivoting to produce hand sanitizers and face masks; to simple, individual acts like buying a sick neighbor groceries or checking in on an elderly friend, people around the world are reacting to fear and uncertainty with solidarity and kindness. As Fred Rogers famously said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” 

We’ve asked Monitor reporters around the world to point out the helpers in their own communities. They’ve vetted charities, from food banks to animal shelters, assisting hard-hit communities around the world. We’ve included a description of the work each charity is doing, and how you can donate.  

Food Link, Boston

Recommended by: Christa Case Bryant 

What do you do with hundreds of half-pints of chocolate milk when a Boston-area school suddenly shuts down? Call Food Link, a nonprofit started in 2012 and powered almost entirely by volunteers, with only five paid staff. They salvage 1,500 pounds of food a day from grocery stores and redistribute it to people who need it, from low-income seniors to community college students. Now, the crisis is testing their creativity as they try to figure out what to do with half-gallons of cream from a local ice cream shop and pre-made sandwiches from a closing school, while many of their regular donating stores have less to hand over due to increased consumer demand. But their nearly 250 volunteers have risen to the occasion. “More volunteers have had to jump in in ways they didn’t before,” says co-founder Julie Kremer, who is also unpaid. “It’s wonderful. They’re so dedicated. … They come at the drop of a hat.” 

Click here to donate to Food Link. 

Community Led Animal Welfare, Johannesburg

Recommended by: Ryan Lenora Brown 

Cora Bailey can tell how her society is doing by how it cares for its dogs. And right now, thing aren’t looking good. Her organization, Community Led Animal Welfare (CLAW), has taken in 60 surrendered dogs this week – four times the normal figure. Their owners, who come mostly from South Africa’s working class, told her they lost their jobs as businesses closed and families told their gardeners, builders, and cleaners to stay home without pay amid the country’s growing coronavirus outbreak.

Operating from a cluster of decaying buildings in the abandoned gold mining company town, CLAW is a catch-all charity for the shack settlements that surround it. In addition to a free vet clinic and animal shelter, it provides emergency assistance (including food, clothing, and medicine) to local residents, and lately, hundreds of peanut butter and banana sandwiches daily to fill the stomachs of out-of-school kids with nowhere else to get a midday meal. As South Africa’s economy continues to tumble, Ms. Bailey says it is poor communities like this one that will feel the effects most strongly. “We know we’re all putting ourselves at risk to be here, but we can’t just close willy-nilly and abandon the people who count on us,” she says.

Click here to donate to Community Led Animal Welfare.

California community funds, California

Recommended by: Francine Kiefer

Earthquakes, fires, drought – California has seen it all. But nothing like the novel coronavirus, which has caused an unprecedented disruption in daily life here. Residents across the state are now being told to shelter in place, and the governor expects public schools won’t reopen until fall. 

Under these conditions, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti never misses an opportunity to highlight a fund to help Angelenos get through the COVID-19 crisis. The Mayor’s Fund provides support for families affected by the coronavirus (child care, meals etc.), equipment for health response, and help for the homeless, such as sanitizing stations. The city of San Francisco has a similar fund.

These, and other funds that are helping California communities cope with the outbreak and its vast fallout, can be found at Philanthropy California, an alliance of more than 600 foundations, corporate funders, individual philanthropists, and government agencies in the state. 

Click here to find funds in California. Then click on “response funds.”

Relais Alimentaire, Bayeux, France

Recommended by: Peter Ford

Michel Riss had a problem.

Mr. Riss, a retired bank employee, runs Relais Alimentaire, a local food bank in the northern French town of Bayeux. He relies on donations of produce near its sell-by date from supermarkets. But as panic-buying swept the town, those supermarkets had nothing left to sell, let alone give away.

Then a solution arrived, “a bolt from the blue, heaven-sent,” says Mr. Riss.

In Bayeux, like the rest of France, the government closed all schools indefinitely on Monday, leaving many with a week’s worth of food in their kitchens.

“This is bad for the schools, but it’s good news for us,” Mr. Riss says. “We feed about 300 people every week, and now we are supplying a homeless shelter which used only to provide breakfast. But with the new lockdown, they have to cook three meals.”

The school food “was a one-off, but it came just at the right time,” Mr. Riss says. With the canned goods and other nonperishables that Relais Alimentaire has in stock “we are good for about two weeks,” he says. “Then we’ll see.” 

Click here to donate to Relais Alimentaire. 

Recovery Cafe and Solid Ground, Seattle

Recommended by: Ann Scott Tyson

Seattle’s award-winning Recovery Café, founded in 2003, has made its mark serving hundreds of thousands of meals and providing other critical services to people recovering from trauma – such as homelessness, addiction, or abuse. Far more than a food kitchen, the café is an unconditionally welcoming community where every person contributes to others’ healing. Or, as founding director K. Killian Noe says simply: It is a place where people are “both deeply known and deeply loved.” Today, although the café’s interior is closed, its work continues, providing meals for pickup seven days a week. Donations can be made here.

Solid Ground, another Seattle-area nonprofit, works to end poverty and its root causes, and helps more than 75,000 households a year with programs to address homelessness, hunger, and other needs. Solid Ground, building on more than 40 years of experience, now operates 22 programs across King County and Washington state. In the current crisis, Solid Ground has innovated to continue its work, for example by coordinating prepackaged food deliveries and providing school lunch pickup for families with children who need meals. It is also providing transportation to additional shelter spaces for people experiencing homelessness.

Click to donate to Recovery Cafe and Solid Ground

Norwegian Refugee Council, global

Recommended by: Scott Peterson

Few organizations understand the needs and vulnerabilities of the 70-plus million people around the world forced to flee their homes like the Oslo-based Norwegian Refugee Council. That also makes the NRC one of the best at recognizing the challenges of stopping the spread of the coronavirus in cramped refugee camps, such as those in Syria, where water is limited and social distancing a dream.

To help fight the COVID-19 outbreak – and prevent camps especially in the Middle East from threatening the rest of the world through uncontrolled spread – NRC aims to double from 2 million to 4 million the number of people it helps with water and sanitation, and deepen health and public awareness campaigns in places where such lifesaving information can be scarce.

Click here to donate to Norwegian Refugee Council.

Die Arche, Germany

Recommended by: Lenora Chu

Working to fight child poverty in Germany since 1995, Die Arche (“The Ark”) is facing new challenges as families are thrust together like never before. Across the country, school’s out because of COVID-19, and 90% of the adults the charity assists are unemployed. “We are afraid the children will face major problems: Sexual violence, physical violence, nothing to eat,” says press liaison Wolfgang Büscher. “I met a family yesterday, a single mother [living] in four rooms with 12 children suddenly home. They have time, but no idea what to do with their kids.” During normal times, the organization’s staff help about 4,500 kids daily with leisure activities and learning, but during the coronavirus crisis their focus has shifted toward delivery of food as well as cellphones and SIM cards directly to the children. “So a child can call us directly if he’s experiencing violence,” says Mr. Büscher. 

Click here to donate to Die Arche. 

Central Texas Food Bank, Texas

Recommended by: Henry Gass 

The Central Texas Food Bank serves a 21-county area that’s about twice the size of Massachusetts. Last year it provided food for about 50,000 people each week. Since a state of emergency was declared in Texas over the coronavirus pandemic, CEO Derrick Chubbs says they’re already seeing a “dramatic increase” in the need for their services, especially for “mobile pantries.” Mr. Chubbs said a mobile pantry that typically serves 100 people recently served 400. To meet that growing need the CTFB is putting together emergency boxes of food that people can pick up at mobile locations to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19. Risk of spread is also hampering the organization’s use of volunteers, with an average of 80 volunteers each shift last year now restricted to 10. Thus the best way people can help is with monetary donations ($1 can supply four meals) online. They can also volunteer online. CTFB stocks its pantries with food from grocery stores, so if you live in Central Texas, Mr. Chubbs asks that if you’re not food insecure you purchase only the groceries you need.

Click here to donate to Central Texas Food Bank. 

Bono Gastronómico, Mexico City

Recommended by: Whitney Eulich 

In Mexico, the culinary guide and website Culinaria Mexicana is rallying to help the food and hospitality industry face the repercussions of widespread closures and an expected quarantine. It’s organizing lists of restaurants and bars and encouraging patrons to buy “gastronomic bonds” to support them. That may be a donation of 500 or 1000 pesos ($20 to $40) that the restaurants can use to pay their staff, pay rent, or keep the electricity on.

The restaurants, in turn, will offer perks. For some, that means a party once the pandemic is under control and life returns to normal. Others are promising cooking classes, or restaurant swag, like sweatshirts. There is no central donation platform, but those interested in helping are asked to reach out to locales directly. Culinaria Mexicana is curating a list that’s updated daily.

Norma Listman, co-chef and founder of the Mexican-Indian fusion restaurant Masala y Maiz encourages people to donate or lend a hand to restaurants no matter where they are in the world. “Support the restaurant or the places that have marked something special to you. Remember that restaurant, whether on vacation in Mexico or Italy, and support the place that gave you a memorable experience so that we can keep building those experiences.”

Click here to find a list of restaurants in Mexico accepting gastronomic bonds. 

Editor’s note: As a public service, we’ve removed the paywall for all our coronavirus coverage. It’s free.



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