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'All Giving Is Very Necessary.' Ways To Give To Charity During The Coronavirus Crisis

A sign announcing "Free Lunch" appears at the New Heightz Grocery Store in Reading, Penn. on March 20, 2020. Owner Moises Abreu is giving out meals to help as people struggle with reductions resulting from the coronavirus.
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MediaNews Group via Getty Images
A sign announcing "Free Lunch" appears at the New Heightz Grocery Store in Reading, Penn. on March 20, 2020. Owner Moises Abreu is giving out meals to help as people struggle with reductions resulting from the coronavirus.

The coronavirus crisis has upended the lives of millions, with no clear end in sight.

Last week alone, new claims for unemployment benefits climbed to 281,000, the most since 2017. Economists say it's only the beginning.

As bars, restaurants and shops across the nation shut down to help slow the spread of the virus, swaths of workers are being sent home. For many, that means uncertainty as to when they'll see a paycheck again.

For those who want to help, it can be hard to know where to start.

Stacy Palmer, editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, has some advice.

"It's very confusing right now, but people should give as generously as they can and not worry too much about what the right thing to do is," she says. "All giving is very necessary."

Thinking local

"There are lots of informal campaigns sprouting up," says Palmer. "You can give money to a restaurant worker who might be laid off from work or do those kinds of things. But you can also give to the same charities that you give to all the time, the ones that you count on for services."

Palmer says it's helpful to consider both approaches.

"Give, you know, a small gift to somebody who's in need, and give to the organizations in your community that really make a difference, groups like - that serve the homeless."

At the same time, she says not to forget about groups that you might not think about in the middle of crises — like arts and educational organizations.

"Think local," she says. "One of the things I think that's smart is if we all take care of each other in our own communities."

In Washington, D.C., for example, service industry employees have set up a "virtual tip jar," a spreadsheet that lets people send money over PayPal or Venmo to support servers, bartenders and baristas.

Avoiding scams

With informal campaigns popping up everywhere from Facebook and GoFundMe to spreadsheets listing Venmo accounts, Palmer warns that it's not uncommon for scams to crop up.

"Many people have been trying to check out the people who are seeking help, you know, online one on one and also deciding that, you know, if I have $10 or $15 to spare, I'm just going to give it away and hope that it really does good. So sometimes we have to look out for the best instinct," she says. "But definitely, any pressure tactics, anything that looks fishy, don't give that way. Your money can be put to better use."

To help donors make informed decisions, there are watchdog groups like CharityWatch that evaluate the trustworthiness and efficiency of philanthropic organizations. The Federal Trade Commission has also released a tip sheet on how to avoid scams.

If something does look fishy, Palmer says to try an organization like United Way Worldwide. The nonprofit partners with reputable local foundations across the globe to meet the specific needs of communities, and in response to the coronavirus pandemic, it has launched an emergency relief fund.

Another option is to look for groups helping children who used to get free school lunches, but who may now be facing food insecurity due to closures. No Kid Hungry and Feeding America are good places to start to support efforts that meet these needs, Palmer says.

NPR's Noah Caldwell and Jolie Myers produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Emma Bowman adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
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