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.

Leave a Reply

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

%d bloggers like this: