Friday, July 17, 2020

Apolitical Ways to Serve People Right Now

There's a lot of hurt and pain going on in the world right now, but there are so many ways to help. I'm hoping this post can serve as a practical guide for busy people who want to contribute time or money but don't know where to start. It will be most helpful to those who are not looking for political or more controversial causes, as I wanted this list to be more broadly accessible.

Give Time

There are countless ways to volunteer, so I'll just list some of my favorites here in no particular order. You'll see that some are basic and can be done in a few minutes while others can be a more long-term commitment.

  • Send heartfelt digital thank you notes to people in your life who are essential workers or medical professionals.
  • Write and mail letters to your friends in general and people you know from marginalized groups who are disproportionately suffering in particular. We're almost all stuck inside and could use a pick-me-up! A friend did this for me and it made my day! (Yes, that is her drawing of us as the photo for this post. It's still on my fridge.)
  • If you know someone living far away from home, send or offer to send them a care package. (Trust me: this means a lot to people overseas in particular!)
  • Volunteer to distribute food to those who need it most. Many volunteers for these types of services tend to be older and higher-risk for COVID-19, so if you are lower-risk you could be a huge help. Local options in the DC area include the Capital Area Food Bank and Meals on Wheels.
  • Keep your foreign language skills sharp while helping others. For example, the volunteer organization LINK is seeking Spanish translators and interpreters at the time of this blog posting. A number of refugee and social service organizations need foreign language speakers right now, and a lot of work can be done online or over the phone.
  • Tutor kids and help them with their homework. Little Lights is a Christian organization, but you don't have to ascribe to any religion in order to participate in their homework clubs or reading and math programs for underserved kids in southeast Washington, DC.
  • Check with a local faith community other than your own to see what service opportunities they might have. This is also a great opportunity to get to know people from other walks of life. In the DC area, Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Arlington often has excellent volunteer projects and welcomes anyone who wants to help. You can search their opportunities here. Islamic Relief USA also maintains a nationwide registry of current opportunities here. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (my church, also commonly known as the Mormon Church) maintains another searchable database here.

Give Money

A lot of people have lost income as a result of the pandemic directly or the measures taken to prevent its spread. If you're not one of those people or if you have cash to spare, you might consider buying gift cards at restaurants or ordering takeout. Or contributing to fundraising efforts for artists or other creatives who are struggling more than usual to find work right now. Here are a few examples of services you could patronize:

  • Donate food or money to help fight hunger, a cause which needs the support more than ever. Here in DC, the biggest is the Capital Area Food Bank. I can also personally vouch for Our Place soup kitchen in Charles County, Maryland, which provides a hot meal to those in need with dignity and love.
  • Contribute to organizations that provide financial empowerment to those in poverty or at a high-risk for poverty. In Fairfax County, Britepaths is a true leader in both short-term safety-net services and long-term solutions. If you're looking for a way to contribute on a more global scale, I highly recommend GiveDirectly. They already met their fundraising goal for getting cash relief to Americans impacted by COVID-19, but they still need support to reach their goal for giving cash to families in extreme poverty in Africa.
  • Order just-thinking-of-you gifts for the people you love and support small businesses. You could check out options like Uncommon Goods and Etsy to find unique gifts people wouldn't necessarily order for themselves on Amazon.
  • Support people who are trying to earn an income working online teaching languages or music or running virtual tours or games. For learning languages, you can check out italki (where you can learn pretty much any language from a native speaker almost anywhere in the world at a huge range of price points and where I've taken many awesome classes with Ani Kasparian) or NaTakallam (for learning Arabic, French, Persian, and Spanish from refugees specically). For online entertainment, you could try Airbnb experiences. They have everything from virtual cooking classes to virtual custom tours of distant lands.

I know this list is incomplete, but I hope it was helpful to at least one person looking to lose a bit of themself in the service of others. Happy giving!

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