Feeling helpless as the pandemic continues? 26 things you can do to help

November 9, 2020  //  FOUND IN: Updates & Resources

Living through historic times isn’t easy. And with major world and national events coming at us fast, you might be feeling helpless or distressed because so much seems out of your control.

But there’s actually a lot you can do to help your community, your social circle and members of your family.

No matter what your background or beliefs, you have the power to address some of the needs exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting recession, by natural disasters, by a hard-fought political season and by the social justice movement. Many people have lost jobs or income, unemployment benefits may be running out and a new national relief bill hasn’t made it through Congress.

Many people who have never needed help before now do. Taking steps to help others may help you regain some sense of control, and ease the stress of living in these times.

“Organizations need a variety of resource support, whether it be time, talent or money, there are no small contributions only significant impact,” said Alfreda Rooks, director of community health services at Michigan Medicine.

She and her team run several programs that rely on volunteers and donations to help others with health and social service needs.

“Now more than ever, reaching out to help those around you can make a major difference in their lives, and also help you keep your sense of purpose and balance,” Rooks said.

Here are 26 ideas for things to do now, and throughout the fall and winter, to help others and yourself:  

Help others with food:

  • Older people, and those with health problems that make them vulnerable to COVID-19, should continue to avoid public places as much as possible. If you’re not one of them, you can offer to pick up groceries for them on a regular basis – or ask them if they need anything when you’re already planning a trip to the store.
  • If you know someone who is caring for a person with COVID-19 at home, or someone who has recovered from a serious case of the disease, ask them what foods they and their family like best, and deliver a meal. Or, set up a meal-preparation and delivery schedule with other friends and family to make sure they’re supported throughout a quarantine or long recovery period.
  • Give money or food to your local food bank or the free meal service at your faith organization to help them meet rising demands. If they’re accepting in-person volunteer help, you can spend time sorting donations, making and serving meals, or other duties.
  • Donate to your local Meals on Wheels agency to help them feed older and disabled adults who can’t leave home or prepare food for themselves. Or volunteer to deliver meals.
  • See if your school district needs help distributing free meals to students who are doing their learning from home. Or, offer to help a family that relies on these meals by going to the pickup point for them; you can post this offer in your school’s online communities for parents, or let the principal know you’re available to help. Pass along this link to a family with children or a pregnant woman you know, to help them find food programs. 
  • Help someone who has lost a job apply for food benefits from the government. Officially called SNAP benefits, but also referred to as “food stamps” and other names in each state, this safety net program can literally be a lifesaver.

Help others with shelter, clothing, heat and more:

  • If you know someone who rents their apartment or house, and they’ve lost their job or had a cut in income, there’s a special program to keep them from getting evicted during the pandemic. Help connect them with 211.org, a national free service, to learn more about housing assistance and eviction prevention in your area, or help them navigate the federal government’s housing assistance site.
  • Homeless shelters have special challenges because of the pandemic. Find one near you to donate to, making sure to look at what they need most before bringing or sending anything.
  • As the weather gets colder, people who have lost jobs or income may have a hard time paying for heat, water, electricity and more. Or they may have homes that could be more energy efficient if they were ‘weatherized.’ Help someone you know connect with resources for utility bills offered by the government during the pandemic, and state and federal weatherization assistance programs. Or donate to a charity that helps people with their utility bills, such as this one.
  • Donate unneeded or new winter clothing and boots to local organizations that help children in foster care, the homeless and more.
  • Find a local diaper bank and donate diapers or funds to help families in need; food benefits can’t be used to buy diapers in most cases.

Help others with medical needs:

  • Give blood to help keep the national supply steady, because many blood drives have been canceled and those that are proceeding must space donors out so they can’t take as many people at a time. If you’ve recovered from COVID-19, give convalescent plasma that can be given to current patients.
  • The “safety net” medical clinics that take care of people without health insurance and with low incomes are facing special challenges because of the pandemic and recession. Find one near you that might need donations of masks and other protective personal equipment, monetary donations or volunteers.
  • If you know someone who has lost their job, they may also have lost their health insurance. Help them find out if they qualify for a new plan, or for help paying for insurance that they buy on their own.
  • Offer to run to the drug store for someone who needs medication or supplies, whether it’s for regular health needs or for COVID-19. This can also help keep people who have health risks, and people who have COVID-19 symptoms or have been in contact with someone who has symptoms, from having to go out in public.
  • If you know someone who needs to get tested for COVID-19, but they’re not sure where to go, help them connect with your state health department’s services, or ones in your county or city. Offer to drive them to get tested, but make sure you both wear masks and keep the windows open and the ventilation system on fresh-air intake.
  • If you know someone who has recovered from COVID-19, understand that it can take weeks or even months to feel better – and some “long COVID” symptoms can linger even longer. Stay in touch to see if they need help getting to medical appointments and mention to them that major medical centers are starting or expanding programs for people like them – such as this one at Michigan Medicine.

Help others stay connected and positive:

  • The internet will be more vital than ever as the fall and winter progress. If you know someone who doesn’t have reliable internet service at home, or is having trouble paying for it, they may qualify for discounts or even free service
  • If you are tech-savvy, offer help to your friends, neighbors, relatives and community organizations to walk them through setting up and using tools for online learning, social activities, medical visits and hobbies. Set up ‘help desk hours’ when you tell them you’re free to take calls and texts asking for help.
  • See if your local library, senior center or faith organization would be interested in having you and others offer ‘tech support’ for people who need it, or virtual sessions to teach a skill you possess.
  • If you know someone who lives alone, is the caregiver to an older or ill person, is quarantining because they or someone in their home has COVID-19, or is recovering from any illness or loss, reach out. Even a quick text or call to let them know you’re thinking of them can make a world of difference when someone is feeling isolated, which many people are
  • Ask your local nursing home or assisted living center if they are accepting virtual visits, drawings, cards, movies, books, blankets or other donations to help residents.
  • Schedule a regular virtual check-in time with your friends and one for your children with their friends every week or two so that you have it on your calendar for the entire winter. Even if you can’t make it every time, it can be a lifeline to help people stay connected in the colder months.
  • If you see someone post something on social media that doesn’t seem quite right, that claims something outrageous, or that seems too good to be true, take a moment to check it out on a fact-checking site. Learn more about how to be a savvy news consumer in a pandemic.
  • Find out what the arts organizations in your area are offering through virtual experiences, and pay to take part or make a donation, so that these organizations will still be there when the pandemic ends.
  • Sure, it’s easy to order everything from online stores. But make a point to shop locally for holiday gifts, or give restaurant gift certificates, to help small businesses weather the economic downturn and stay afloat.

This story first appeared on the Michigan Health Blog.

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