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Charities and donors are facing a holiday season like no other. But they have come up with solutions.
Talk to the staff members of charitable organizations these days and they will tell you they have never seen a year like 2020, with the Covid-19 pandemic and the hardships it has wrought. Millions of Americans are out of work or newly living in poverty and many others are socially isolated, creating a greater-than-ever demand for services. Kenneth Hodder, the national commander of the Salvation Army, described the present moment as “a tsunami of human need” in a telephone interview.
And yet many charities have had their normal operations disrupted by the pandemic, creating a dramatic mismatch between that need and the ability to fill it. People who gave money in years past may not have the financial means to do so this year. Organizations that provide direct, in-person services, like food banks and homeless shelters, are just as reliant on volunteers despite public concerns about the coronavirus.
This is the time of year when people traditionally donate to toy drives, food banks and other favored charities or give their time as volunteers. And for many charities, the money raised in November and December is the major part of their budgets for the following year.
In many cases, the organizations are continuing to try to fill people’s needs. Toys for Tots drop-off bins can still be found at participating locations. Soup kitchens, food pantries and faith-based organizations will be serving Christmas dinners. Goodwill’s more than 3,300 stores across North America are, with rare exceptions, accepting donations and open for shopping.
Others have taken their work online. Soldier’s Angels, a nonprofit that works with members of the military and veterans, has been holding virtual baby showers for spouses of deployed service members as a part of its “Baby Brigade” program. Public libraries are holding research and informational conversations over Twitter. And mentoring through Big Brothers Big Sisters continues to happen, now over videoconference in many places.
“Nonprofits are doing an amazing job not only of innovating but adhering to C.D.C. guidelines,” of social distancing, said Laura Plato, the chief solutions officer of VolunteerMatch, which connects volunteers with nonprofits across the country. “We’ve really leaned in to the virtual and hybrid side of things.”
For those who want to give back during the pandemic, here’s how some charities are handling the holiday season.
Donate with QR codes, not coins.
Last year, the Salvation Army’s red kettle campaign, which runs from Black Friday through Christmas Eve and features bell ringers outside retail locations and on busy street corners, raised $126 million.
This holiday season, the Salvation Army’s most visible time of year, bell ringers will be out on the sidewalks, but many businesses are temporarily closed, and stay-at-home orders and concerns about the virus have sharply reduced foot traffic. Mr. Hodder, the national commander, estimates that kettle donations could drop by much as $60 million.
“If we do not reach the American public at Christmas, our ability to help people is in danger,” he said.
To make it easier to give, the Salvation Army has placed Google Pay, Apple Pay and QR codes on red kettles nationwide to facilitate contactless payments. You can scan your smartphone rather than dropping change into the pot.
People can also donate by texting “kettle” to 91999, or telling Alexa, Amazon’s virtual assistant, to make a donation without ever leaving home.
“We are being as creative as we possibly can,” Mr. Hodder said. “This is all new, but we’re not going back.” (Many charities have posted their new Covid-19 protocols on their websites.)
Coat drives go drive-through.
Beth Amodio, the president and chief executive of One Warm Coat, a national nonprofit that organizes coat drives, expects a similar shortfall caused by the pandemic. In a typical year, workplace programs are a major contributor to coat drives, but employees by and large aren’t in the office. Schools, another key partner, have either gone remote or are open in limited ways.
As a result, the number of her organization’s coat drives is down 56 percent year-to-date, while at the same time, demand for One Warm Coat’s services is up by 30 to 50 percent, Ms. Amodio said. “A lot of families that were already struggling are approaching crisis mode as the temperature falls and utility bills are rising,” she said.
One Warm Coat created a program to host virtual coat drives. Participants who go to the organization’s website get a link to a virtual coat drive page that’s easy to personalize and share via email. The program raises dollars instead of collecting gently worn outerwear.
And because “there’s no substitute for in-person coat drives,” Ms. Amodio said, her charity has come up with creative ways to stage them. Last month, a school in Atlanta held a coat drive during morning drop off. Masked volunteers collected more than 400 coats through rolled-down windows.
There is more demand to feed the hungry.
Food banks are also experiencing surging demand. “Food insecurity in the United States is at a level that arguably we have not seen since the Great Depression,” said Katie Fitzgerald, the chief operating officer of Feeding America, a nationwide network of more than 200 food banks.
City Harvest, which distributes excess food in New York City, said that since March it had distributed more than 3.4 million pounds of food to more than 80,000 families at the nine mobile markets it operates throughout the five boroughs. That’s compared with two million pounds of food to 46,000 families over the same period last year. The markets operate every two weeks at each location.
City Harvest has stopped its choose-your-own style of distributing food at the markets during the pandemic and instead bags and boxes food in its warehouse. And volunteers can still help out while staying socially distant.
“We literally push the box or bag across the table and the individual goes on their way,” said Ryan VanMeter, the associate director of major gifts for City Harvest. “The thing I say to people who volunteer at our mobile markets is you’re going to feel all the blessings. But, yes, we are trying to minimize the interaction.”
But most critical right now, Mr. VanMeter said, is financial donations.
Volunteer if you can.
A recent study by a Fidelity Charitable, the nation’s largest grantmaker, found that two in three volunteers decreased or stopped contributing their time because of the pandemic. In its own survey, VolunteerMatch found that more people currently viewed Covid-19 as a barrier to volunteering than at the beginning of the pandemic, even though “we expected it to be the opposite,” Ms. Plato said.
Part of the reason for the volunteer shortage is that many volunteers are older people — the population most at risk for the coronavirus. But there are ways to donate your time and stay safe.
The VolunteerMatch website lists both local and virtual volunteering opportunities across the country. Currently, the nonprofit shows about 3.8 million volunteers needed throughout the United States.
Like many nonprofits that rely on in-person activity, Feeding America has switched to a low-touch or no-touch model, such as drive-through food banks.
Be in it for the long haul.
But whether you give your time or a financial contribution this holiday season, it’s important to remember the need will remain for a long time to come, even if Congress passes a new stimulus bill or the stock market is booming.
“It took 10 years after the 2008 recession to get back to pre-recession levels of food insecurity,” said Ms. Fitzgerald of Feeding America. “It’s great the stock market is doing well. That’s not going to change the circumstances of people, who, prior to this pandemic, were living paycheck to paycheck.
“We know this is a marathon,” she added.
How to Find — and Spread — Joy
How to Find — and Spread — Joy
Even during the pandemic.
- Dec. 6, 2020, 1:20 p.m. ET
“Joy” may not be the first word that comes to mind in the middle of a pandemic, but people across North America are looking for ways to find — and share — it. Here, suggestions from Times readers, on how they are brightening the days of friends and family with gestures large and small.
“I made a big batch of chocolate chip cookies for Election Day and delivered them to friends. I so enjoyed seeing my friends and hearing their voices ‘in person’ (socially distanced and masked, of course). Happiness for my friends and also for me.”
— Erica Ginsburg, Philadelphia
“I live alone in Telluride, Colo., a mountain town know for healthy, high altitude outdoor living. During the pandemic, I have taken to delivering pots of homemade yogurt and fruit crumbles to friends. I make the yogurt in small Mason jars. Friends return the empty jars to me, sometimes with a few nuts or pieces of dried fruits (great for snacks while skiing and snowshoeing). I then drop another few jars of yogurt on their porch, sometimes with an individual portion of a fruit cobbler or crumble. Our cold temps mean we don’t worry about refrigeration. A friend who raises honey bees here generously shares honey, which is perfect for topping the plain yogurt, for those who like it sweet (I prefer the tart flavor, and even add lemon zest to my own).”
— Kyle Koehler, Telluride, Colo.
“Each year, I test my old lady legs with a handful of 5K races. Nearly every race benefits a cause. This summer, looking to scratch that itch, I almost signed up for a virtual race. But while the cause was certainly worthy, I wanted a more personal experience. So, I created Kristy’s K’s, my own charitable race series. Once or twice a month, I push myself on a timed run, dedicate that run to someone special in my life, and make a donation in that person’s honor. I send them a certificate, complete with a sweaty finish-line selfie. To date, I have donated to my nephew’s kindergarten classroom, an art museum in Kansas City, the Ohio Ornithological Society, an adoption foundation, a nonprofit that supports neighborhood public schools, and a fund-raiser to equip high school science students with molecular model kits and digital pocket scales for at-home learning.”
— Kristy Zurbrick, Dublin, Ohio
“A dear friend recently was given a major medical diagnosis. She’s not ready yet for talking or socially distant visits. Instead I text her daily photos of my cat, who she’s affectionately dubbed the Pinkness. #dailypinkness.”
— Kim Burnett, Denver
“I spread joy through notes and gifts. After my downstairs neighbor gave us Parmesan cheese when we had none and needed some, I replaced it and included a six-pack of Narragansett. I put Post-its on five of the beers saying “Thank/you/for/being/a totally great, considerate, awesome” and then circled ‘neighbor’ on the sixth beer.”
— Pamela Roy, New Haven, Conn.
“Every Monday morning I send a postcard to my three elderly aunties. They live far away and because of Covid cannot have visitors, and calling on the phone is cumbersome because of hearing and other health issues. So, at the start of Covid I started a ritual of writing to them and putting cards in the mail every Monday morning. I haven’t missed a week yet! And, of course, it makes me feel good, they enjoy the anticipation of mail and it gives me time each week to reflect on the world, from large stage (politics, weather events, movies to watch) to small world (critters in the yard, walks taken, dreams had, memories shared).”
— Laurie Zyons Wood, Manitou Springs, Colo.
“I don’t go into work every day but have to go in about once every two weeks. Along the way I stop for an egg sandwich at a drive-through. I always pay for the tab of the car behind me, no matter the price. Makes me smile and I hope is a good start to their day too!”
— Mary Bell, Portland, Ore.
“This past weekend, I enlisted my daughter-in-law Gayle’s help to make a Ukrainian food takeout menu for 20 family and friends. I made pierogies, of course — two kinds: sauerkraut and bacon and mashed potato and Cheddar cheese — holopchi (cabbage rolls), Ukrainian sausage and crepes (nalysnyky) with cottage and ricotta cheeses. Of course, we topped the pierogies with bacon bits and sautéed onion and ate them with sour cream. The recipes are from the cookbook ‘The Prairie Table’ by Karlynn Johnston. My daughter-in-law made a salad of cooked chopped beets, carrots, sweet onion and dill pickle with a dressing of vegetable oil and vinegar with some dill pickle juice. And, for dessert, she made a delicious sheet cake. We packaged all of this in takeout containers, kept the hot food warm in the oven and enjoyed short visits with our family and friends who came for takeout on a cool Sunday afternoon.”
— Lucelle Prindle, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada
“I have been sending postcards to family, friends and acquaintances who (pre-pandemic) I would regularly see in social circles. “Greetings from Bellevue!” or “Aren’t you happy this isn’t just another election mailing?!” Hoping to catch recipients by surprise and let them know that I miss them and they cross my mind.”
— Bethany Beal, Pittsburgh
“We have a group of neighbors who meet once a week for happy hour. Since Covid we’ve changed our restaurant happy hours to new digs in town — our garages. We clear out the cars, put our indoor/outdoor carpets on the garage floor, toss in a folding table with a pretty linen tablecloth for appetizers, place 20 candles, fairy lights and a lit Christmas tree in for light and then open the garage doors for fresh (and often cooler these days) air. Even though we wear ski jackets and blankets to stay warm in Kohler, we socially distance by about 10 feet and enjoy an hour or two of beautiful togetherness.”
— Beverly Davidson, Kohler, Wis.
“My mother-in-law couldn’t come for Christmas as planned, which is hard given it’s only her second one alone. She’s in Maine and the risk is too great. So, we mailed her an Advent calendar of sorts. It started on Dec. 1, when she could open the box, and then every day leading to Christmas it contains a new goody to unwrap. Cheese straws made in my home state, North Carolina, tropical-scented lotion to remind her of those sunny beaches she loves, handmade crafts from the kids and the finale on Christmas Day will be the annual photo calendar I make with all the shots of her kids and grandkids she hasn’t seen from the year! We even included a bag of treats for her cat Virgil, so he could be in on the fun. We’re really sad she can’t be with us, but this gives us joy; and we hope it’ll bring her some too.”
— Laura Browning, Raleigh, N.C.
“I live in Portland, Ore., and I regularly make mandalas in the woods near my house, using flower petals, leaves, mushrooms and other found natural objects. Many delighted passers-by have told me that the highlight of their day is coming across a creation by the “mandala fairy” on their walks. It makes me happy to be able to contribute a bit of uplift in these challenging times.”
— Donna Zerner, Portland, Ore.
“I have gotten great satisfaction lately out of harvesting and sharing seeds from my fennel plants. I have three large ones next to my patio — they are bronze fennel — which I planted to attract swallowtail butterflies. This summer I had a ton of gorgeous caterpillars on them, and many butterflies and bees so they were a pollinator favorite, which of course, means many seeds. I’ve shared them on a seed exchange here in my town, mailed them to friends around the state, in Philly and in New York, and am prepping a batch to send to a friend in Italy. Fun part — they can be saved to plant next spring, or used for cooking. As a thank you from one friend, I received a fabulous recipe for a coriander/fennel seed digestive that is apparently common in Indian culture.”
— Laura Marchese, Montclair, N.J.
“I was cleaning out my garage when I came across a carton containing high school memorabilia. Among the awards and notebooks, were 5-by-7-inch senior photos of my best friends with long inscriptions to me about our friendship and about the fun times we shared together during our four years in school. I sent the photos off to each one of them, and was happy to receive texts back saying what a laugh they had looking at themselves at 18, and reading their heartfelt comments. We are all now 75, and have been reconnected through the extra time Covid has given us.”
— Maureen Fitzgerald Bennani, Lexington, Mass.
“I have been both finding and spreading joy by feeding and otherwise looking after a small group of cats that lives at a community garden where I rent a raised bed. These guys are blissfully unaware of the mess humans have made of the world. They are unerringly cheerful. Each day when I arrive at the garden, the cats come bounding toward me with excited meows and raised tails. They rub around my legs as I’m preparing their food bowls. I haven’t been working at a job since the beginning of the pandemic, so I consider this outing to the garden my new daily commute. Taking care of these cats gets me out of the house and out of my own head.”
— Diana Parker, Phoenix, Ariz.
“I took up painting while in quarantine. To keep me motivated to paint, and to bring joy to others, I sent a group of friends each a picture frame in the mail. Every month, or when the season changes, I send them a new painting that relates to the changes. It keeps me motivated and brings joy to my friends as they swap out the new painting each month.”
— Kaitlyn Hall, Munster, Ind.
“I’ve been thinking about the holidays a lot this year, since I’m not flying home to my mom’s. To make up for it and as a way to really spread some joy over a couple of months’ time, I sent my mom a kit for an amaryllis, an indoor flower that grows in the fall and starts blooming in winter. I sent one in October and we’ve been watching it grow and bloom together long distance. I got one too so we could kind of do it together. Mine, I’m calling it the inauguration bloom since it seems to be taking a little while.”
— Nicole Lanzotti, Oakland, Calif.
“We have a lot of children on our street here in Winston-Salem, N.C. When the weather was warmer, I went to the front porch and played the accordion for the children who were riding their bikes or in a stroller at the same time every day, Monday to Friday. Children’s Happy Hour at 4 p.m. In colder weather, I leave little surprises — a flowering pansy, a special rock or a little card every day under the mailbox. This becomes a destination for the end of their daily walk. The parents appreciate this. And it brings me great joy too.”
— Linda McKinnish Bridges, Winston-Salem, N.C.
These entries have been lightly edited for length and clarity.