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.
I’m working with Focusing Philanthropy, a well-regarded nonprofit that supports intelligent giving and will cover credit card fees for your gift. This means that 100 cents of each dollar will reach the recipient organization if you donate through the website we’ve created for this initiative: KristofC19ImpactInitiative.org.
So at this time of exploding need, consider these causes:
AMERICA’S HUNGRY. Food insecurity is soaring in the United States, magnified because children often can no longer get free school lunches and because food pantries are short of supplies. Last month, a vehicle line to a food bank near Pittsburgh stretched for miles, and a survey of New York State residents found 41 percent worried about being able to afford food.
Catalyst Kitchens provides nutritious meals to hungry families in 32 states. Since 2011, the group’s network of members has distributed some 72 million meals.
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.
That’s because about 5.8 percent of American Indian households don’t have running water (compared with 0.3 percent of white households) and because homes are often crowded, pre-existing medical conditions are common and the Indian Health Service is starved of funding. The Navajo reportedly are suffering coronavirus fatalities at twice the national rate.
The Center for American Indian Health is responding with a team of more than 200 Native American health workers helping in their own communities. The center, a unit of Johns Hopkins University, has long experience fighting infectious diseases and is now helping Native communities brace for Covid-19. It is distributing food to hungry families, water to those who lack it, personal protective equipment to health workers and information about how to care for those ill with the virus and how to prevent its spread.
“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.
If that happens, and it may be just a matter of time, the International Rescue Committee will be on the front lines, fighting to save lives. Founded at the suggestion of Albert Einstein, the I.R.C. is a gold-standard organization working in some of the toughest neighborhoods around the globe.
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.
AMERICAN CHILDREN OUT OF SCHOOL. Even in the best of times, the United States has one of the highest rates of child poverty in the developed world, and now many of those children are at home missing both school lunches and an education. Twelve million children don’t have internet at home, so how are they supposed to engage in remote learning?
Save the Children is best known for helping children in Africa and Asia, but it also works in low-income American communities and it is now stepping into the breach. In these areas in the United States, Save the Children is providing both meals and books, all for less than $15,000 per school district.
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.
CLINICS WITHOUT WATER. We tell people in a pandemic to protect themselves by washing their hands — yet Unicef calculates that three billion people can’t wash their hands at home because of a lack of water and soap. One recent study found that at some places in Africa, Asia and South America, a majority of people had been unable to wash their hands in the previous month.
That’s where Water for People comes in. It brings water, toilets and hygiene education to villagers in Africa, Asia and Latin America, often by drilling a well at a health center. Sited there, it can be used by the medical staff as well as by the surrounding community.
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.
If you want to contribute to one or more of the organizations mentioned in this column, or learn more about them, please visit KristofC19ImpactInitiative.org.
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