Category: Community Service

11 Ways to Support People with Disabilities During the Coronavirus Pandemic

11 Ways to Support People with Disabilities During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Written by NxtGov member Arthur Shemitz

We choose a career in public service so that we can be of service to the public. We believe in contributing to the common good, and working hard every day to make a better California. As individuals who have dedicated our careers to bettering the world, we are leaders in our communities.

The global coronavirus pandemic, and the catastrophe it has caused, is an unprecedented call to public service. When so many are losing so much, it is time to serve and advocate for our fellow Californians, especially the most vulnerable among us. 

While the pandemic has disrupted all of our lives, many of the people most affected and worried by the spread of the virus are people with disabilities. As you know, the most vulnerable groups are older people — 40% of whom have at least one disability — and those who are immunodeficient or have underlying respiratory conditions. 

Here’s the good news: by practicing good hand washing, socially distancing, and self-quarantining if you have symptoms of a respiratory condition, you are already helping prevent the spread of infection to the most vulnerable. But we can always do more, so we’re excited to share 11 more ways to support people with disabilities during the pandemic. Each one has its own link to reference material or opportunities to get involved, so you can easily take action.

1. Call out people who dismiss the risks

We are fortunate that the majority of the population is not at significant risk of death from the novel coronavirus. However, people with compromised immune systems or underlying respiratory conditions — such as those with certain chronic illnesses, HIV-positive people, or people with asthma — are at serious risk. Despite this, you can still find public figures saying things like “it’s not a big deal because most people aren’t at risk.” It is a big deal that members of our community are at serious risk. When you see and hear these messages, correct them and share your knowledge of the severe threat COVID-19 poses to the disability community.

Read more: When you say coronavirus will only kill the vulnerable, you’re talking about me

2. Amplify public health directives

Because COVID-19 poses a particular threat to people with disabilities, it’s important to ensure people are following directives from public health officials. This is the time to use peer pressure for good. If your friends and family members, coworkers, or members of your community organizations are not taking social distancing seriously, don’t hesitate to call them out. Lives are at stake!

Read more: How to Use Psychology to Convince People to Take Social Distancing Seriously

3. Share information responsibly

There is so much worry and concern in the air, and so much confusion around what is still a developing pandemic. This is a ripe environment for rumors, misinformation, and conspiracy theories to circulate. Share accurate guidance from public health experts and debunk false information you see on social networking sites. Unfounded information could truly be a matter of life and death.

Read more: CDC Resources on COVID-19, CDPH Resources on COVID-19, COVID-19 Disability Community Preparedness Resources

4. Accommodate remote work, even after this ends

Many people with disabilities would have always benefited from remote work because chronic illnesses make it painful for them to travel to the workplace, or because their workplace is not as physically accommodating as their home, or for other reasons but were previously told it wasn’t an option. The novel coronavirus has demonstrated that more work can be done remotely than we previously realized. Whenever these restrictions lift, keep these lessons in mind and work to normalize remote work in the future.

Read more: Disabled people have worked remotely for years, and they’ve got advice for you and your bosses

5. Check in with and run errands for loved ones with disabilities

This is a scary time for folks who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19. If they start to run out of food or other essential supplies, it may be terrifying to imagine going to the grocery store and potentially exposing themselves to the virus. Proactively check in on your friends and family who are at risk, and offer to do their grocery shopping or any other errands at this time.

Read more:10 ways to help your neighbors and friends during the coronavirus crisis,” “How To Check In On Friends’ & Family’s Mental Health During The Coronavirus Pandemic

6. Volunteer (in a socially distant manner)

Even though most physical volunteer opportunities are cancelled, there are still plenty of ways to support the disability community through remote and in-person volunteering. Kelly Joy, our Director of Community Engagement wrote an article on this topic that explores Sacramento’s opportunities for giving back to our community right now.

Volunteer: You may have a lot more time on your hands, so now is the time to give back! 

Be My Eyes is an app that lets sighted volunteers provide free visual navigation and assistance to blind and low-vision people through live video.

Crisis Text Line is a free crisis intervention service available through text messaging. Individuals who experience suicidal thoughts are especially at risk during this time of isolation and disruption of normal routines, and this is a critical time to help.

Bookshare offers free or low-cost accessible ebooks to people with disabilities that make reading traditional ebooks challenging. You can volunteer online to scan books, or edit existing scans.

Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services, which disproportionately serves people with disabilities, remains open and has an urgent need for volunteers. Normal volunteer orientation requirements have been waived, and Food Bank staff ensure that all volunteers comply with social distancing requirements.

7. Donate where it is needed most

The state of the economy, and individuals’ personal finances, have both changed rapidly. If you have money to give, now is a critical time to contribute to organizations and individuals in the Sacramento community and beyond. (Plus, the 2020 tax year will feature a $300 tax deduction for charitable contributions, even if you don’t itemize your deductions — just another reason to give.)

Donate: Sacramento COVID-19 Mutual Aid, Donate4Sacramento COVID-19 Regional Response Fund, Disability Justice Culture Club

8. Redirect some or all of your stimulus check

As public employees in heavily unionized workplaces, we typically enjoy a level of job security that others do not especially relative to many people with disabilities, who are often the last to be hired and the first to be let go. Because of that, if you are expecting to receive a $1,200+ stimulus payment from the federal government, your need may be less than the need of many in the disability community. (Of course, everyone’s individual circumstances vary and you may have a spouse or loved ones who have lost their job, or you may otherwise be economically impacted by COVID-19.) Consider whether your stimulus payment would be more effectively used to support organizations supporting people with disabilities.

Read more: #ShareMyCheck

9. Donate blood

Our hospitals are about to be deeply strained, just as blood drives traditionally held at schools and workplaces have been canceled. If you can meet the screening criteria, donate as soon as you can.

Donate: Vitalant, American Red Cross

10. Advocate for coronavirus relief to include and prioritize people with disabilities

In times of crisis, the needs of people with disabilities are often neglected or pushed aside as too inconvenient to deal with. Speak up and amplify demands for the ongoing prioritization of the most vulnerable.

Read more: #DisabilityDemands

11. Take care of yourself

You can’t be an effective advocate or support system to your friends and family if you’re not prioritizing your own needs. These are stressful times, and you deserve to pay loving attention to yourself as well. If you feel overextended, take some time to care for yourself and restore your energy.

Read more: “15 ways to practice self-care in the time of coronavirus”

This is hard and scary, and it will stay hard and scary. But with just a little investment of time, you can make this a little less hard and scary for someone else. And when you do good for others, you feel better about yourself. Our community is counting on your public service, and I’m so excited for the good you will do and are already doing. 

Community Engagement and COVID-19: 12 Things You Can Do To Help Right Now

Community Engagement and COVID-19: 12 Things You Can Do To Help Right Now

Stop Asking “Why” and Start Asking “How”

Written by Kelly Joy, Director of Community Engagement


Note: We will continue to edit this blog post as needs and opportunities are rapidly changing in our community. Feel free to reach out with questions or suggestions by commenting on this blog post! 

This really sucks. It sucks for people, it sucks for businesses, and it sucks for our community. The social fabric of our society is, for the time being, irreparably altered. Try not to ask yourself “why?” because there is no real answer. And you honestly wouldn’t feel better even if there were an answer. Instead of asking “why,” I implore you instead to shift your thinking to asking “how.” 

So “how” do we all cope with it all? The first answer is gratitude. Whenever I am stuck in a rut of feeling like the weight of the world is pressing on my chest, I challenge myself to think of something I am thankful for. It can feel difficult at the time, but it still doesn’t usually take long to think of something. For example, having a job at this time feels more like a privilege now than it did two weeks ago. I’m grateful for technology that allows me to keep in close contact with my friends and family when I can’t see them in person. At an even more fundamental level, I am grateful to have a roof over my head and food in my fridge. I feel fortunate that all of my family members are healthy — this isn’t the case for many. 

No matter how bad things feel, we can always be grateful for something. It can be easy to fall into the trap of asking “Why did this happen?” or “Why do I need to cancel this important event?” or “Why can’t I travel on this planned vacation?” or “Why does this feel so sad?” I encourage you instead to ask “How can I help?”

You may not be able to fix all of the problems in this world, but I promise you, you can do something. Take comfort in that fact. You can help. You can make a difference for others, and the bonus is that it will actually make you feel better, too. 

Here are actual, manageable actions that you can take to help others in your community. If you live in Sacramento, I have included links to local organizations actively seeking help. 

1. Donate blood

Hospitals and other medical facilities are on overdrive right now with an expected surge in patients due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There is an urgent blood shortage in many places to meet this high demand. Many planned blood drives needed to cancel with all of the recent orders to shelter in place, but blood banks are still open and strongly encouraging donations. Every donation can save up to three lives! 

How you can help: The American Red Cross has a tool to look up blood drives in your area. In Sacramento, you can make an appointment directly with Vitalant (previously known as BloodSource). Note that there are some travel and health restrictions to donate. 

2. Foster a pet

Local animal shelters have been hit with a double whammy. People aren’t coming to adopt animals right now, and shelter employees are staying home in order to quarantine or self-isolate. This leads shelters to have lower capacity to keep and take care of the animals, and some are even at risk of closing.

How you can help: If you are in a position right now where you can foster a pet —- especially a dog — contact your local animal shelter to ask if they need animal fosters. In Sacramento, the Sacramento SPCA is in need of emergency foster parents for large dogs. Added bonus: a new pal to keep you company while working remotely!

3. Support local businesses

Local businesses have been hit so hard right now. Foot traffic for restaurants is at a standstill, and people are no longer frequenting dine-in restaurants at all.

How you can help: You can do a lot even just by grabbing take out from a local (especially family-owned) restaurant that is still open. You can also purchase gift cards to use at a later time. This gives the business your money now to get them through this tough time, and you can redeem the gift card later. Some local businesses have continued to operate, but have moved sales online, including Capital Books on K, Shop Cuffs, and Oak Park’s Strapping. Many local businesses are running promotions as well, including Elevation Ten Winery, which is currently offering 30% off all wine as well as $5 shipping for orders of four bottles or more. If you’re wondering if your favorite local restaurant is still offering takeout or curbside pick-up, this spreadsheet lists local restaurants and the services they still offer. Check out their social media accounts for the latest updates.

Also, if you have a recurring payment to a local business like a gym, coworking space or child-care provider, try to keep that commitment if you can, even if the business has been forced to close temporarily. 

4. Tip Well

The workers preparing take-out orders and delivering our groceries are busier than ever and are offering us an essential service. Many of these people are also worried about contracting the virus and about the health of their own friends and family. Some are taking on this type of “gig” work because they were suddenly displaced from their normal job. You can give extra support to these people who are giving extra support to us.

How you can help: Tip more than you usually would if you have the means. Those of us who are steadily employed can do our part to keep the service industry thriving.

5. Pick up trash

You’ll be surprised how much trash is outside once you start looking for it. It’s a big, gross problem that doesn’t get better unless someone does something about it. You can be that someone.

How you can help: If you are going outside for some kind of “essential” activity, you can bring gloves and a bag and pick up trash you see on the way. This is a great way to beautify the community, and it is an especially great activity for introverts and/or those who thrive on instant gratification. You can immediately see and measure the impact of your few minutes outside making things nicer for everyone. It also comes with the bonus of giving you an excuse to spend an extra couple minutes outside.

6. Call your friends and family

Of all of the coronavirus-related content online, one of my favorites thus far has been: “Introverts: Put down your book and check on your extroverted friends. They are not okay.” Everyone is struggling right now, and just because we can’t be in the same room anymore does not mean that we can’t still support one another. And no, your extroverted friends are not okay.

How you can help: This one is pretty self-explanatory, but here are some extra things to consider. Make sure to check in on family and friends, especially people you know in high-risk groups, including ones who are immunocompromised, have underlying health conditions, are over 65 years old, etc. 

Some specific strategies: Group messages, FaceTime or video chat, Marco Polo, and call your grandparents! (And also text the extroverts.)

7. Donate

So many nonprofits are struggling right now. If you have money to donate, there is no shortage of worthy causes to donate to. There are also causes you can donate goods to as opposed to cash donations.

How you can help: Pick a cause, any cause! There are seriously so many, but some are especially impacted by this recent epidemic. Causes that are supporting people affected by job loss, medical expenses, school closures, etc. are all doing very important work that deserves support. If you are in a position to give, give to a cause you feel passionately about. If you are looking for particular examples, here are a couple to choose from:

YMCA: The YMCA has opened up emergency childcare centers for parents adversely affected by school closures (across the country, from what I can tell). Most parents — including “essential” workers like doctors, nurses, social workers, emergency responders, etc. — rely on school or daycare for their children in order to work. 

Starting Point for Refugee Children: Starting Point is a Sacramento-based nonprofit that supports newly-arrived children and families by providing them with necessities for their new lives. Starting Point is in need of basic goods such as rice, flour, sugar, pasta, dried beans, nuts and dried fruit. If you have picked up any extra of these goods in your recent bulk-shopping trips, you can donate some to Starting Point directly or through NxtGov’s upcoming drive for this charity. (Reach out and/or follow us on social media for more information on our drive coming soon!)

Sacramento Loaves & Fishes: Sacramento Loaves and Fishes is a local charity that has an ongoing needs list of supplies for people in the community who are in need of basic necessities. The list includes toilet paper, diapers, blankets, reusable water bottles, backpacks, tents, batteries, clothes and pet food. 

Save Our Local Restaurants: Mayor Steinberg has joined forces with local chambers of commerce and other community partners to support Sacramento’s locally-owned bars and restaurants from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 outbreak. These business owners and employees have been profoundly affected, and donating to the Save Our Local Restaurants GoFundMe  will help these local businesses stay afloat during this difficult time. 

Mask Match: You have likely already heard about the shortage of protective gear for healthcare workers, which leaves them more at risk of contracting COVID-19. Mask Match is a platform that helps connect people with spare masks to healthcare facilities who need them right now to protect their employees. If you have any spare N95, P95, R95 or surgical masks, you can fill out an online form to be matched with an organization that is currently seeking donations.

Donate4Sac: A fund specifically created to give back to Sacramento. You may choose to have your contribution used in one of five ways:

  1. Support for Families. This funding adds to the United Way California Capital Region’s COVID-19 Local Relief Fund to provide childcare, meals, rental assistance and other essential resources for families whose lives have been disrupted by the COVID-19 outbreak.
  2. Support for Small Businesses. This support leverages and supplements the City of Sacramento’s Small Business Emergency Relief Fund for zero-interest loans to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on small businesses and their employees.
  3. Services for Our Unhoused Neighbors. Providing services through area nonprofits to unhoused Sacramentans, such as emergency shelters, hygiene stations and other solutions to meet their needs.
  4. Nonprofit Support. This funding will be distributed through the Sacramento Region Community Foundation’s Disaster Relief Fund, which will rapidly deploy flexible resources to nonprofits working with communities impacted by COVID-19.
  5. General Support. Flexible funding to provide support beyond the areas identified above and wherever it is most needed.

Choose your own: Want to find another nonprofit not listed here? Check out GreatNonprofits to find one you feel passionately about.  

8. Volunteer

If it is easier for you to give your time than it is money right now, there are a number of emergency and essential service providers that are still operating and need people like you to volunteer and help. 

How you can help: Reach out to local nonprofits and inquire about whether they are in need of any volunteers. Below are some local examples in the Sacramento area:

Sacramento 2-1-1: Sacramento’s local information line, 2-1-1, has a need for volunteers to help provide information to callers asking about COVID-19 and the city’s response. There are multiple opportunities for shifts between 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM.

Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services: As an essential services provider, Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services remains open and and is dealing with increased demand. There is always a need for volunteers to sort and bag food for the community, and food bank staff will ensure social distancing requirements are followed. (Donations of cash, food and clothes to the Sacramento Food Bank are also accepted.)

Sacramento Loaves & Fishes Family Kitchen: Sacramento Loaves and Fishes is an organization providing hot, nutritious meals to low-income and disadvantaged people in the community. They need volunteers to help prepare and distribute meals.

Sacramento City United School District: SCUSD is asking for volunteers to provide meals for students.

CalVolunteers:  CalVolunteers has a list of California nonprofit organizations and food banks at the front lines in need of volunteers.

9. Boost morale

Remote work and social distancing are big transitions for many in our community. Even for the people who seem to be going about their day as normal, all of the drastic changes in our society have taken a toll. You can do a lot by doing an unexpected act of kindness for others.

How you can help: If you are still going to work as an essential worker, you can bring (individually-packaged) snacks for your coworkers, for example. If you are working remotely, find ways to connect with your coworkers via video. Try to bring positivity and levity to your work. You can also do something similar for others who are still working right now, even if you aren’t. You can even double up on your support by supporting a local business with your purchase!

10. Connect with the needs in your city/neighborhood

Even over the course of writing this article, the needs in our community have changed. New needs pop up while other needs are filled. Getting in touch with the needs in your local community will help you stay connected with how to get involved and help during this challenging time. 

How you can help: Hands on Sacramento is a site that constantly posts new volunteer opportunities in the local area. There is also a Sacramento COVID Volunteer Corps Facebook group that you can join to see needs people are posting in real time. There is also an ongoing Google sheet called Sacramento COVID-19 Mutual Aid 2020 that is tracking needs of individual people in the community. You can help by checking the sheet and providing some help when and where you can. #UniteSac and has an extensive collection of resources and ideas to help out our neighbors in this time of need.  Also, platforms like Nextdoor can help connect you to what is going on in your area (though it isn’t specific to volunteer or donation opportunities). 

11. Self Care

Charity begins at home. If you are mustering all of your effort just to get out of bed in the morning, prioritize taking care of yourself right now. And maybe let others step in to support and help you take care of your needs right now. 

How you can help: Give yourself permission to meet your needs without any judgment or self-criticism. Take a step back from the deluge of social media posts if you need to. In many cases, the most valuable thing we can do is to ask for help. People want to help right now, and they probably don’t know you need it unless/until you ask.

If you do feel like you need some extra help right now, there are companies like TalkSpace providing remote counseling and therapy sessions. Or if you could just use a bit of a break from this socially-distant world, here are a few resources that can help break up the routine of spending so much time at home:

12. Be part of the solution

One of the most helpful things you can do right now is something you are (hopefully!) already doing: listen to everyone telling you to practice “social distancing.” Staying home and refraining from socializing with others is not ideal, but it is what we need right now. If you are already doing this, give yourself a pat on the back. This isn’t easy, and you are already acting in a way that is benefiting the community!

How you can help: Listen to guidelines from the Center for Disease Control, your local health department (e.g. CDPH in California) and other government/community leaders, and take this seriously! These directives continue to change based on the status of the number and location of COVID-19 cases, so follow updates from these trusted sources and act accordingly.

The Gift of Giving

The Gift of Giving

NxtGov and St. John’s Worked Together to Celebrate Children in the Program for Real Change by Hosting a Birthday Party

By Kelly Joy, NxtGov’s Community Engagement Marketing Chair

In April, NxtGov’s Community Engagement Team worked with members of Project Birthday to throw a joint birthday party for a dozen different children at St. John’s Program for Real Change. St. John’s provides a safe and welcoming environment for women and children who have experienced severe trauma such as domestic violence and homelessness. St. John’s hosts a community of these women and children, and the center provides housing and intensive support in a structured program that lasts between 12 and 18 months for each family. As part of these efforts, St. John’s has community birthday parties every month for all of the children with birthdays in that month. 

While preparing to host April’s birthday party at St. John’s, members of the Community Engagement Team planned out a theme, designed activities, collected party supplies and picked out gifts for each of the birthday kids. NxtGov members also reached out to their personal and professional networks and found additional donors who wanted to contribute presents for the children at the party. Mini profiles with the children’s names and interests were sent about each of the kids to the donors ahead of time. This helped the NxtGov members and community donors personalize the gifts for each child to make them feel as happy and well celebrated as possible for their birthdays.

I was so excited to see the profile of the little boy that I matched with and learn more about him. He was in elementary school and his interests included cars, fire trucks and Paw Patrol. I also noticed that his wish list also had a “light jacket” and for a moment my heart sank. My excitement reconciled with the gravity of the situation. I flashed back to the time I asked my mom about what to get a friend’s child. “Kids never ask for clothes for their birthday,” she said. I thought of my mom’s “rule” when I read the request for a jacket next to the list of possible kids’ toys I had expected. In that moment, I saw not only the wishes of a little boy on his birthday, but also a mother’s stress to provide for all the necessities of a growing boy in a challenging time.  I was reminded that although St. John’s has a wonderfully supportive program, being there is never a family’s “Plan A.” I don’t know what led to this particular family to go to St. John’s, but I also have to admit that I’m not sure that I can even imagine why. I am a mother to a toddler, and I can’t fathom how much stress I would be under not feeling like we had a stable permanent home to stay at night. Or a safe one. That is the reality of many of the women and children who go to St. John’s. And for the hundreds of others on their waiting list. I couldn’t solve whatever may have led the family to St. John’s, but I could do something to help make a birthday special for a little boy who might already be growing up way too fast. 

The day of the birthday party, the Community Engagement Team mobilized to put all of our brainstorming into action. Dozens of balloons were blown up and put on the wall, tables and floor. Volunteers filled up plastic eggs and a piñata with candy, and the presents were all collected and set up along with enough cupcakes for all of the birthday kids and all of the other kids in the community that attended the party – more than 50 in total! Each of the birthday kids had a special name tag to show that it was their birthday, and they looked so happy when they were personally greeted and wished a happy birthday by each of the volunteers. The party flew by with all of the fun activities. The biggest hits with the kids were the egg hunt and piñata. After the party games, everyone gathered in the main room inside to sing happy birthday over cupcakes and watch the birthday boys and girls open presents. An already happy day became a very special one for each of the birthday kids as they opened their presents and saw something from their wish lists. I watched a young boy open up the present I had picked out for him. He unwrapped the jacket first and immediately passed it to his mom. (I couldn’t help but think that my mom continued her streak of being right about everything.) He then opened the Paw Patrol police car and figurines, and I saw the reaction I hoped he would have when opening his birthday present. He then immediately shared the figurines with his younger sister so they could both play together. “Wow,” I reflected for a moment to myself. “Kindness begets kindness.”

Among all the activity, I noticed the kids weren’t the only ones smiling and laughing. I noticed many of the parents also seemed caught up in the fun of the moment seeing their kids so excited to be celebrated. I also looked around and saw all of the smiles on the faces on all of the faces of the volunteers. We all wanted this event to be special for the kids and their families, and it was emotional to see all of our planning and coordinating turn into not only a successful event, but also such a rewarding one for this wonderful group of women and children.


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DISCLAIMER: This is an unofficial organization that is not connected to any one government entity.

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