Opinion | Here’s How You Can Help People During the Coronavirus


Readers keep asking in this age of Covid-19: How can I help?

With so many people sick and dying and American unemployment at a level not reached since the Great Depression — and people in poor countries even worse off — readers want to address those needs.

This column is an answer to those queries. I’ve picked five organizations that are responding brilliantly to the coronavirus and have sound plans to expand their work if they can raise the cash.

A beautiful element of the Catalyst program is who cooks the food: The network trains homeless people, those recovering from addiction and those recently released from incarceration to prepare the meals so that they can eventually find jobs in restaurants or institutions. Since the nonprofit FareStart established the initiative, Catalyst has placed 14,000 such workers into food service jobs.

Catalyst’s constraint is cash. With support, it says it could ramp up to deliver more than 100,000 meals a day to needy families.

VULNERABLE NATIVE AMERICANS. Three American counties with largely Native American populations — two in South Dakota and one in North Dakota — have shorter life expectancies than Cambodia, and those native communities are proving particularly vulnerable to Covid-19.

“We need the U.S. to wake up and protect its Indigenous wisdom keepers,” Allison Barlow, director of the center, told me. “Funding is our only limitation.”

REFUGEES AND DISPLACED PEOPLE. A nightmare for global health experts is the coronavirus racing through refugee camps like Dadaab in Kenya, near the Somalia border, with more than 200,000 people, or through the vast camps of displaced people in Syria or Yemen.

Last month the I.R.C. announced an initiative to address the coronavirus worldwide, including in migrant camps on the Mexican side of the United States border. Many people there are asylum seekers from Central America who have been pushed into Mexico, perhaps illegally, by the Trump administration and are easy prey for gangs and viruses alike.

The I.R.C. trains volunteers who work with churches and community leaders to try to limit the pandemic in this vulnerable population. As the son of a refugee, I feel particular admiration for an aid group that tries to save the lives of people who have already endured so much.

Much of the discussion about the effects of Covid-19 has been about the unemployed, and that’s enormously important. But my top concern is children. Trauma in the early years shapes the developing brain, leads kids to lag in school and affects physical and mental health even decades later.

The hard part isn’t drilling wells but keeping them going; I’ve seen wells abandoned in impoverished villages for want of pennies in ball bearings. So Water for People ensures that a system is in place for repairs, to keep the water flowing.

Water for People has identified 273 clinics and schools to which it can bring water and toilets if it can raise the money. They are in Bolivia, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Malawi, Nicaragua, Peru, Rwanda and Uganda, and the programs will include hygiene education with an emphasis on hand-washing.

In an ideal world, doctors and patients in poor countries would have access to oxygen and ventilators. In this imperfect world, we can at least get them clean water so they can wash their hands and try to protect themselves from Covid-19.

While these organizations do wonderful work, charities can do only so much. I like these organizations because they also are effective advocates for smarter policies. David Miliband of the International Rescue Committee is a leading voice for refugees and the displaced, and Mark Shriver of Save the Children is a tireless advocate for disadvantaged children.

If you have time but not money, consider volunteering. Check out iMentor.org, which lets you guide high school students in part through online connections. Or engage in advocacy with a group like Results.org.



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