COVID-19: What can I, personally, do to help?

I think we’ve all read enough about the coronavirus pandemic to take it seriously.  We have no idea what the infection rate, survival rate, etc. are going to be, apart from broad parameters;  we can only go by the information available to us, and much of that information is suspect.  However, the trend is ominous.  (The statistics at the link will update daily;  the graphic below was accurate at the time of writing.)

The powers that be are taking a pessimistic view, and implementing increasingly draconian measures to slow down the spread of the virus – no matter how disruptive those measures may be to the economy, and to our lives.  It’s frustrating to see “one-size-fits-all” measures decreed by bureaucratic fiat, whether they’re actually likely to help or not.  It’s the politicians’ and administrators’ version of “Don’t just stand there – do something!”  They’re doing something, whether or not it’s well-advised, because they dare not be seen to be effectively unable to stop this thing in its tracks.  That’s not good for their re-election prospects, you know.

I’m also seeing campaigns to raise money to help those impacted by this pandemic.  The usual suspects – the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, etc. – are all looking for donations.  MSN is even begging for funds by inserting this appeal into many of its news reports:

The big problem I have with most such appeals is that (with the honorable exception of the Salvation Army) large charitable organizations necessarily carry a heavy administrative overhead, that has to be paid for.  They apply a large proportion of their income to doing so (in many cases, including paying exorbitant salaries to their executives).  I don’t have much to give, so I don’t want that to happen to my donations.  I want them to reach the people I would like to help.  Therefore, I look closer to home.

I think each and every one of us should examine our own situation carefully.  Obviously, if we’ve been laid off from our jobs, or others in our family have been laid off, we need to take care of our own first.  Make sure there’s food on the table for everyone, and sufficient clothing, etc.  However, in a situation where economic distress is so widespread (or about to be), I think it’s incumbent on each of us to help our local communities wherever possible.  After all, the odds are pretty good that we’re going to need help ourselves before this thing is over.  If we all pull together, we’re all more likely to make it out the other side.

There’s a lot we can do.  Some of us can donate money.  Others can donate supplies.  Those who haven’t got any surplus cash or supplies can donate their time to help others.  However, I strongly suggest that we keep our assistance local wherever possible.  Local people and institutions will know who genuinely needs help, and who are the neighborhood ne’er-do-wells seeking to get something for nothing.  They can make sure the help gets to those who deserve it.  Church-run food banks, “meals-on-wheels” organizations, etc. are all usually worthy of our support.  Miss D. and I plan to increase our giving to a local food bank, because they need it now more than ever.  We’re also trying to support worthy causes that are known to us, and where we’re sure our donations will be well spent (for an example, see my blog post yesterday morning).  Those who’ve lost their jobs may need plain ordinary cash to hold things together (say, to treat their kids to an ice-cream, or buy them a toy or puzzle to keep them occupied, or put gas in the car – something they can buy without needing to beg for it specifically, which many will find shameful or demeaning).  I have no problem giving cash to those I trust to use it wisely and well.

There are many folks who won’t be able to take care of all their needs.  Older people may not be able to mow their own lawns, or wash their own cars, or things like that.  There’s no reason why more able-bodied people around them can’t get together to mow lawns, wash cars, and generally take care of such tasks.  Those who are more vulnerable – the elderly, those with pre-existing health conditions, etc. – who should not be exposing themselves to a high risk of infection, may need someone to do their shopping for them.  Shopping bags can be left outside their front door, thereby minimizing potentially infectious contact.  Arrangements can be made by telephone, or over the internet to a local hub such as a church web site, without exposing others to infection.  If there are more of us sitting at home, why not make our presence more fruitful and beneficial for everyone?

Another thing we can do is to improve our own neighborhood’s security.  With the sudden decrease in the number of people out and about, those who eke out a living through panhandling and minor crime will be cut off from their usual sources of funding.  Drug addicts, in particular, will be getting desperate.  I expect there to be a significant increase in ‘minor’ crimes such as breaking into vehicles, theft of items from lawns or front yards, aggressive begging at front doors, etc.  Expect this to get much, much worse in cities run by “politically correct” administrations, who won’t police them effectively – for example, Philadelphia.  Those of us who are able-bodied can keep an eye out for such things, and set up what one might call an “active Neighborhood Watch” to patrol the streets.  A small group on foot, obviously on the alert for trouble, will help keep such problems away.  In smaller towns, this can be coordinated with local police forces or sheriff’s offices, to make sure everyone’s on the same page.  (We did something similar after Hurricane Gustav, twelve years ago.  It worked well.)

I’d like to suggest that particular emphasis should be given to helping those who are on the front lines of fighting the coronavirus pandemic.  First responders, emergency medical personnel, doctors, nurses and so on, all have families to care for and domestic needs that must be met – pets fed and walked, gardens cared for, etc.  If they’re working extra-long hours trying to care for the sick, their families at home will almost certainly be overloaded trying to do everything else that they’d normally do.  We can help.  I’d like to see aid networks set up in every community, perhaps through local hospitals, perhaps through churches, where the families of those people receive extra help and attention.  That’ll remove that burden of worry from our medical personnel, and let them get on with their jobs with a clear conscience.  Talk to local doctors’ offices, nursing homes, etc. to see what can be done.  (Consider also local police, firefighters, etc.  They’re also going to be more heavily burdened during this crisis, and may need extra help.)

There’s another aspect of doing something that is very politically incorrect – but it needs to be said.  There are some people you just can’t help.  The perpetually homeless (as opposed to the temporarily homeless) are a good example.  Many are homeless by choice, due to mental problems or drug addiction issues, and won’t improve or change their lives no matter what.  Large, state-wide or national charities and programs will seek to help them all, because they can’t or won’t discriminate between them.  Frankly, that’s the wrong way to go when our resources are limited.  Those resources need to go to those who will make best use of them, and who will benefit from them.  If someone will take our help – food, money, whatever – and use it only to buy more drugs, or get drunk, then they should not receive our help.  It’s as blunt as that.  Local people and organizations can better choose who to help, because they have a better sense of who will benefit, and not waste it.  Larger organizations can’t.  Therefore, channel your help through those who will use it wisely, and monitor them to ensure that they do.  If they start handing it out to all and sundry, look for others to support instead.

If, in your area, there are no organizations doing anything like this, why not start one?  Begin in a small way, with your friends.  See whether you can get your church involved, or social networks, or groups like that.  Make this a grassroots effort from the start.  Sure, if there’s an existing structure, that makes things easier;  but the absence of such a structure doesn’t make them impossible.

Friends, things are going to get worse before they get better.  We can choose to wallow in doom, gloom and disaster, along with all those who revel in such nonsense;  or we can choose to be part of making things more bearable, and helping to fix what’s breaking down.  I know the side on which I want to be counted!  The need for assistance is very great, and getting greater.  Let’s do what we can to help, all of us.


EDITED TO ADD:  As Bustedknuckles points out, “This picture says it all.”

I’d like to see these all over the place – or, at least, in places where they won’t be robbed blind and/or vandalized. How sad it is to know there are places where that would happen for sure . . .


  1. Some excellent ideas, Peter. I myself will NEVER give a farthing to the accursed Red Cross. The Salvation Army, on the other hand, has minimal overhead and a record of success.

  2. That picture requires a high-trust society to function. Surprisingly (or not,) you don’t find high-trust societies in urban environments and places of high-diversity.

    This is a good time for all of us Americans to actually act like Americans.

  3. Another site tracking these things:

    Our community pantry is on-line, we have a neighborhood networking site that we offer assistance through. For those not on it (my neighbor across the street) folks check up and post needs/wants. I’m seeing offers of eggs, paper goods and such, along with babysitting and handyman services. So far, the neighborhood is getting along well.

  4. Something else: if & when you can afford it, get take out food. If restaurant dining rooms are being shut down, they’re going to need all the help they can get. Especially family and locally owned restaurants – that’s that family’s livelihood.

    It might not save the jobs of the wait staff, but it can keep that restaurant afloat so that those jobs can come back when things go back to normal.

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