How Can You Help During The Coronavirus Situation? We Have Some Ideas

March 18, 2020
Justin Levy packs Thanksgiving meal kits inside Jewish Family Services' food pantry, Nov. 19, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)Justin Levy packs Thanksgiving meal kits inside Jewish Family Services' food pantry, Nov. 19, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)Kevin Beaty/Denverite
Justin Levy packs Thanksgiving meal kits inside Jewish Family Services' food pantry, Nov. 19, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The question has come in to our newsroom at least daily since the new coronavirus started dominating the headlines: what can I do to help?

Stuck in your houses, trying to responsibly socially isolate yourselves, it’s clear a lot of you still want to find ways to aid those Coloradans who are even harder hit.

The state even started a hashtag to get people to share the ways they’re helping: #DoingMyPartCO.

Before we get to the specific things we can do, it’s important to note that public health officials say the best help people can offer right now, first and foremost, is to do their part to try to contain the spread of the virus. That means staying at home as much as possible, washing hands frequently and following the other guidelines put forth by the Centers for Disease Control.

But, if you’re already stuck at home doing all that, what’s next? Here are a few suggestions:

The state has a website for that

Colorado has rolled out a website to both collect donations and connect people with volunteer opportunities. HelpColoradoNow.com has raised $2.8 million dollars already in its first days, according to governor Jared Polis. The site allows people to register their information to volunteer, but asks for patience in getting connected with anything, and warns that some opportunities may require background checks to protect those who will be helped.

Local communities have also started fundraising efforts. The Pike's Peak Community Foundation is asking for donations to its emergency fund, which supports local nonprofits that directly aid people being harmed by COVID-19. The Denver Foundation has a similar fund that also accepts donations. It's grants so far have focused on organizations that work with people experiencing homelessness or food insecurity.

Make a mask -- make lots of masks

With Coloradans being asked to wear a mask every time they head out from home -- and to wash those masks after every use, there's a big demand for this suddenly de rigueur face wear.

Of course, people can make masks with as little as an old teeshirt, or a rag and a few hair ties.

But if you're feeling crafty, and generous, you can start sewing masks for your friends and neighbors. The Colorado Mask Project has a pattern and instructions, and promises to connect you with people in need. On the Western Slope, the GJ Mask Team is helping connect mask-sewers with mask-needers.

Or you could take a lower-tech approach, make a bunch of masks and leave them out for passers-by (or use a site like Nextdoor to alert your neighborhood). Of course, be sure your hands and workspace are clean while you're sewing away.

Other volunteer ideas

Colorado’s seniors and those with compromised immune systems are most at risk from COVID-19. There are already local nonprofits marshaling resources to help these groups. In the Denver area, the organization A Little Help aids seniors through tasks like delivering groceries and running other errands, while carefully following CDC guidelines for preventing transmission of COVID-19. 

There are also similar efforts coming together organically, through social media and local faith communities. On the Western Slope, the Grand Junction Mutual Aid Facebook page facilitates people-to-people connections, as well as getting out information about more organized ways to give help and receive it.

Yes you can still give blood, and hospitals need you to

Gov. Jared Polis said Wednesday that blood banks around the state are concerned about a serious upcoming shortage, as scores of blood drives have had to be cancelled.

Though blood is not generally needed to treat symptoms of the Coronavirus, it's still needed for everything else hospitals usually need blood for. Polis emphasized there are still safe ways for people who don't believe they've been exposed to the virus to donate blood. He's asking people to visit this website to find out more.

Help out your local food pantry  

It’s simple but clear: with virus-related closures and other disruptions putting many people out of work, many more families are going to need help filling their fridges and pantries.

But at the same time demand is expected to grow, pantries are struggling with supply, as regular shoppers buy up many of the groceries -- dented cans, about-to-expire perishables -- that might normally end up donated.

“We depend on our retail partners like Costco, Walmart and King Soopers for about a third of all food we distribute,” Food Bank of the Rockies CEO Erin Pulling told CPR’s Colorado Matters. “Many of our trucks from those retail partners are coming back almost empty because, as we've seen in the news, we're emptying the shelves.”

Put those factors together, and Food Bank of the Rockies, and the hundreds of pantries it supplies, are at the center of a perfect storm. Pulling advises those who want to help not to hunt for that last can of beans at the grocery to donate. Instead, she urges those who want to help to give money instead.

“Honestly, right now that's really complicated for us to have the volunteers to sanitize, clean, sort and redistribute that food,” Pulling explained. Plus, “we can actually stretch financial gifts so much further than we can with food.”

The group is also asking those who can to sign up for a much-needed volunteer shift, as long as they don’t believe they’ve been exposed to the virus.

You can also help out providing meals directly to people in need. The Denver Metro Emergency Food Network is seeking donations toward its goal of delivering 50,000 meals a month to seniors and homebound families during the pandemic response. On the Western Slope, Grand River Meals on Wheels says demand for its services is up 20 percent since March. The group is seeking donations, but says it isn't able to take on new volunteer drivers at this time.

Order Takeout! 

There could be worse appeals, right? If you want to help Colorado, consider having someone else do the cooking. 

See, with all the closures mentioned above, the state’s restaurant industry is likely to be one of those hardest hit economically. However, Gov. Polis’s order does not apply to take-out, delivery or drive-through orders. Plus, Uber eats is waiving delivery fees for many independent restaurants in the state. So check out your favorite place’s menu online and get to ordering.

And don’t forget, a lot of coffee shops are still open for grab-and-go orders, if you’re getting tired of fixing your own java.

Another idea gaining steam is buying gift cards for your favorite local hot spots or small businesses. They could really use a cash infusion right now. And then later, when we can actually spend time in the company of other humans again, we can dig them out and celebrate! 

There are also groups organizing takeout for others. In Colorado Springs, the city is encouraging people to give to a fund that supplies meals to front line medical workers at Penrose-St Francis Health Foundation, a non-profit hospital.

Don’t forget the artists

Another group firmly holding the short end of the stick in all this are Colorado creatives, as theaters and concert venues have gone dark, and galleries are shuttered. To that end, artist and Meow Wolf community engagement coordinator Merhia Wiese put together a Go Fund Me page called Denver Metro Area Artist COVID-19 Relief Fund. 

“Artists and performers do not get paid without doing the work or performing. If an event is canceled or postponed, they do not have an income. With the widespread cancellation of major events here in the Denver metro area these vulnerable folx (sic) are already suffering,” Wiese wrote on the site.

The effort is seeking $150,000 and is prioritizing providing funds to historically marginalized groups.

Some arts groups have also urged patrons to consider not seeking refunds for cancelled shows, in order to leave those resources with the organization.

Do some science

Getting tired of endlessly scrolling social media or Zooming long lost friends? Put that computer to service for the common good by chipping in on scientific research.

The website SciStarter connects aspiring citizen scientists with all sorts of projects to help out on, many from the comfort of their counches.

Finally, pleeeeeeaaase, take care to only share reliable information

Misinformation is more than a nuisance; it can be a danger during the rapidly evolving COVID-19 outbreak. It is understandable in such nerve-wracking times to want to share each distressing new development with friends and loved ones. But, please, from all of us in the CPR Newsroom, take a second to make sure that information comes from a reliable outlet. There are so many established journalists in Colorado working long hours to provide you accurate and up-to-date information. We urge you to make use of their effort.