The Critical Ways America’s Charities’ Nonprofit Members are Helping Communities Respond to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Pandemic

Mar 18, 2020 11:40 AM ET
Blog

Nonprofits are the backbone of our communities – some more visible than others in their impact and the needs they meet. While COVID-19, otherwise known as the coronavirus, is affecting everyone, nonprofits are particularly feeling the pinch as they simultaneously adjust their work environments and policies to ensure the safety and well-being of their staff and volunteers, and demand for their programs and services surges beyond the scale their networks are prepared to handle. The cancelation of fundraising galas and partner development conferences further exacerbates the situation and strains their finances, capacity, and resources. The long-term impact to nonprofits’ bottom-line will affect the capacity of many nonprofits to serve their constituents in the months, and possibly years, to come.

To shed light on the important ways nonprofits are supporting our communities during this health and economic crisis, and to underscore how people across the country are being impacted in ways big and small, America’s Charities, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit celebrating its 40th anniversary this year working at the nexus of employers, charities, and employee donor giving and engagement, reached out to its community of 120+ nonprofit members for insights. If you don’t see the nonprofit you love listed here, check our Coronavirus Resource Center, which we will keep updated as new initiatives emerge, or click here to search our full member list

Below are just a handful of challenges America’s Charities’ high-impact, pre-vetted nonprofit members are facing. Our hope is that this article will bring light to the critical role nonprofits fill in this country; help individual donors identify and support nonprofits supporting coronavirus efforts; and encourage cross-sector collaboration to ensure these nonprofits have the necessary resources, capacity, and support to continue providing help throughout this pandemic and beyond.  

Demand for Food and Basic Essentials Rapidly Increases While Support from Donations, Volunteers, and Government Diminishes

School closures, job disruptions, lack of paid sick leave, and the health threat’s disproportionate impact on the elderly and low-income families are only a few aspects of this evolving crisis. As food banks are already seeing a decrease in retail donations, unique product distribution challenges, declining volunteer groups, and an increased product demand for vulnerable populations, Feeding America has launched a COVID-19 Response Fund.

“We have seeded the fund with $2.65 million and plan to meet member’s needs and the creation and distribution of staged food boxes in the most vulnerable areas of our country. With the help of our supporters and partners, we are leading a conversation on how to address immediate and long-term needs as well as mitigate the impact on our nation’s most at risk populations,” shared Teresa Gruber, Director, Employee Engagement, Feeding America.

The most vulnerable among us rely on school meals and feeding programs to survive. Those living paycheck-to-paycheck may not have savings or support systems to help. Feed the Children, which works to alleviate childhood hunger, told us that the coronavirus has already impacted the National School Lunch Program, which typically supplies close to 29 million free or reduced lunches. These meals are a critical lifeline. As school doors close across the country, vital essentials need to reach food-insecure families as soon as possible. As Feed the Children CEO Travis Arnold stated, “Please know that your donation may be the lifeline for a struggling family or child who lives in your community. That's why every donation matters so much.”

Diane Clifford, Managing Director, Constituency Development at No Kid Hungry, which focuses on policies and programs necessary to end childhood hunger, stated, “We are working to ensure that school administrators and program operators have the information they need on how to keep meal programs running. This post from our Center for Best Practices provides guidance on proactive actions schools can take to meet the nutritional needs of students during school closures related to COVID-19. We have sent it to many schools, state agencies and community organizations, but we want as many leaders to have this info as possible.”

Nonprofits like Miriam’s Kitchen, whose mission is to end chronic homelessness in Washington, D.C., rely heavily on volunteers and in-kind donations. In the past 37 years, Miriam’s Kitchen has never closed its doors. The population vulnerable to COVID-19—older individuals with complicating health factors—is the very population Miriam’s Kitchen serves, so continuing their services is more important than ever. While making the difficult decision to temporarily suspend their volunteer program, Miriam’s Kitchen staff from various departments will fill in to ensure meal services and streamlined case management continue. They are asking for donations to their Miriam’s Kitchen’s Emergency Flex Fund to help them ramp up and sustain efforts in response to COVID-19.

Virginia-based Lorton Community Action Center (LCAC) is operating as usual, but taking extra precautions to keep its clients, volunteers, and staff safe. Clients visiting the food pantry have been offered additional, non-perishable food, and two weeks ago each family received Clean Start kits (hygiene and cleaning items). Additionally, LCAC is providing extra kids packs with additional non-perishable goods (Ramen, Easy Mac, etc…) in the weeks ahead to meet the needs of neighborhood children and teens. Just this past week, a father who frequents LCAC told the nonprofit, “thank you for making sure our kids have what they need.”

The team at Operation Warm, which provides kids with coats and so much more, told us, “This is our outreach time via conferences and we are no longer traveling as conferences are being cancelled. So, opportunities to develop new partnerships are hindered. It is too early to have a handle on the impact this will have on corporate giving, but we already know there will be more families in need in the fall and demand for our coats will likely go up, as it did in 2008-2011.”

Health, Safety, and Lifelines are at Stake – for People and Pets

Even larger organizations like the Red Cross are feeling the blow, with the Food and Drug Administration urging healthy individuals to donate blood as American Red Cross blood drives are being canceled nationwide. Ivana Krejci, Development Operations Specialist for the American Red Cross of Central & South Texas Region shared, “To meet the constant demand for lifesaving blood, the Red Cross must collect about 13,000 blood donations and more than 2,500 platelet donations every day.

“Through Monday, March 16, we have seen over 2,700 Red Cross blood drives canceled nationwide due to coronavirus concerns, resulting in about 86,000 fewer blood donations,” shared Emily Schricker, Grant Specialist with American Red Cross Eastern Pennsylvania. “As more schools and businesses close their doors, this number will only continue to grow. This blood shortage could impact patients who need surgery, victims of car accidents and other emergencies, or patients suffering from cancer. One of the most important things you can do to ensure we don’t have another health care crisis on top of the Coronavirus is to give blood.”

Believe In Tomorrow Children’s House at Johns Hopkins, which serves pediatric patients and their families who travel from throughout the U.S. and the world as their child receives treatment for a life threatening illness at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, is simply overwhelmed with the demands of responding to this health crisis. With eight facilities that serve immune suppressed pediatric patients, they have had to make major policy and procedural changes within each of their facilities.

Brian Morrison, President, CEO, and Founder of The Believe In Tomorrow Children’s Foundation, stated, “We have had to stop virtually all volunteer services and activities as we greatly restrict the number of people who can enter the Children’s House at Johns Hopkins, which is located on the grounds of the Johns Hopkins Hospital. We are working to completely overhaul our family food service program at the Children’s House at Johns Hopkins, which provides breakfast and dinners to an average of 60 guests daily. Our food program has relied heavily on volunteers coming into the facility to help prepare and serve meals, and we are now switching to meals that are prepared off-premises in restaurants and delivered daily. We are also now purchasing and asking for donations of high quality frozen meals in bulk. Additional cleaning and housekeeping staff are being hired to disinfect surface areas on a continuous rotation throughout the day. Similar precautions and procedures are being implemented in each of our pediatric respite facilities. We are asking for additional funding to support our families, who are often far from home, and due to their child’s illness cannot leave the hospital area. Gift cards to give to families and contributions to support our programs are greatly appreciated. We are preparing for a two to three month period of major instability.”

Humans aren’t the only ones being impacted by coronavirus. Best Friends Animal Sanctuary made an historic decision this week to close its sanctuary to visitors for the first time in its 36 years of operation. Their Lifesaving Centers throughout the nation are also closing to the public over the next week in an effort to remain conscientious in their attempts to limit and protect their partners, volunteers, and employees from any potential exposure to the illness.

“This will have an incredible impact on national lifesaving efforts as adoptions will slow down but intake will remain steady or potentially even increase,” stated Jane Jetabut, Corporate Engagement Specialist, Best Friends Animal Society. “At this time, we are urgently in need of fosters. As many folks will now be working from home, now is a great time to make an incredible lifesaving contribution by providing a short term foster space for a shelter pet.”

While protective measures like social distancing and self-quarantine of infected/potentially infected individuals are inconvenient for everyone, for victims of domestic violence, they can become life-threatening. Danger inside of the home can increase along with the risks posed by the virus pandemic. When abusers have expanded access to their families, such as during the holidays, reports of domestic violence increase. Additionally, when law enforcement and medical services are forced to focus elsewhere, support services can begin to break down. According to Axios, the number of domestic violence cases reported to police in Hubei province, China nearly tripled in February after quarantine for coronavirus.

For those already experiencing domestic violence, the pandemic will add anxiety and challenges that come with having to ensure childcare, maintain employment and nutrition for their family, and access healthcare. The loss of work and income caused by coronavirus can mean the difference between safety and independence and life with an abuser.

PCADV is monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic closely and is providing daily guidance to its network of local domestic violence programs across the Commonwealth,” said Susan Higginbotham, CEO, PCADV. Adding, “Our programs will continue providing direct services, and we are collectively making every effort possible to ensure minimal disruption in services.”

Shelter space is a concern. In Pennsylvania alone, PCADV’s domestic violence programs average more than 6,500 unmet requests for housing each year—and that’s when residents are not facing a pandemic. In response to COVID-19, if needed, and when possible, programs will use hoteling and other alternative housing models.

Making Urgent Information and News about the Coronavirus Accessible to the Deaf Community

A far overlooked issue is the dissemination of information about the coronavirus itself. Much of the information shared by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have been in complex college-level English text form. Such information is not accessible to many people in the U.S., particularly those whose primary or only language is another language, as well as those who comprehend plain English rather than complex English.

Many within the deaf community use American Sign Language (ASL) as their primary or only language. Yet, the CDC and HHS do not include any videos in ASL that explain the same urgent and critical information shared with everyone else in complex English.

Howard A. Rosenblum, Esq., Chief Executive Officer & Director of Legal Services at the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) stated, “Despite our strenuous efforts in urging both the CDC and HHS to disseminate information in ASL, they have repeatedly told us "it is coming," yet the crisis is at critical levels and many places are closing. It’s not okay to share ASL information a month after everyone else has information. This is not acceptable and it is also illegal under federal disability rights laws.”

Moreover, Rosenblum shares, “We [NAD] have been expending time and effort to ensure that state and local governments hold accessible press conferences that advise their local populations on what to do during the epidemic. Too often, such press conferences are not accessible. Some are captioned, which is good but is not accessible for those who only understand ASL. We urge all such press conferences across the country to have both captioning and ASL interpretation. Nothing less.”

Keeping Educational and Arts Programs for People with Disabilities and Underserved Populations Operational

While some nonprofits have made the tough choice to cancel or suspend their own programs, having that choice has not been the case for all. Susan Slattery, Director of Outreach at Art Spark Texas, which provides programs supporting people with disabilities – including veterans and wounded warriors – shared, “There is a general feeling of uncertainty because, in many cases, we are not the ones who made the decisions to close. Property owners and program partners are also facing the same dilemmas, and we have to work together for the common good. Not only does this affect the people we serve, who already experience social isolation, it affects our funding streams and impacts staff and family members. We will have to look at ways to streamline programs and services into the unforeseeable future, but are pleased at the outpouring of support we have received from our current funders.”

Generation Hope, which describes its work as a “two-generation solution to poverty,” works with teen parents in college and their little ones. Between college campus and school closures, admission to physical and mental healthcare facilities, and access to food, Generation Hope’s team and case managers are working to ensure the support and services they provide continue without interruption – moving some of their programming to virtual delivery where possible. Generation Hope asks people to sign up to tutor remotely, mail laptops and Wi-Fi hotspot equipment to their office (located at 415 Michigan Ave, NE, Suite 430, Washington, DC 20017), donate to their Scholar Emergency Fund, and help with general operating support.

The National Capital Area Council Boy Scouts of America’s (NCAC) first priority is the health and safety of its staff, volunteers, and Scouts, and their moral responsibility to follow guidelines for social distancing to help stop the spread of this disease. While much is still unknown about how dramatically they will be affected by the coronavirus, they have currently cancelled all programs, events, and camps until at least April 30. In addition to technology and resource deficits, this disruption will result in lost revenue. A donation of $240 can help NCAC cover the cost of programs for one Scout whose family has been economically challenged by COVID-19.

As is the case with many other nonprofits we’ve heard from, Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), whose programs and scholarships are life changing for students—many who are low-income and first-generation college students—is having to postpone and cancel critical fundraising events that support TMCF’s overall mission. Not only does TMCF provide unparalleled access to a funnel of opportunities for students to journey to college, through college and into a career, but TMCF also serves as an essential pipeline, providing corporations with critical exposure to diverse talent. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have long been overlooked as major corporations build their university relations plans largely with predominately white institutions. The programming TMCF offers allows senior leaders, hiring managers, and other corporate stakeholders to engage with talent they would not normally engage with cost efficiently, proving to corporate leaders that HBCUs provide a rich and viable pipeline of diverse talent. This process of exposing the value of HBCUs is central to the mission of TMCF and critical to their ability to deepen current funding resources and attracting new ones.

The Need for Sustainable Nonprofit Funding

The event of America’s Charities’ 40th anniversary has given us an opportunity to pause and reflect on philanthropy. In all our time supporting nonprofits and businesses and advancing the greater good, we have never seen the social impact community face a crisis quite like this one. While the full scale of the coronavirus toll has yet to be seen, one thing is crystal clear: nonprofits all across the U.S. are playing an absolutely vital role in addressing and mitigating the impact the coronavirus will have on communities across our nation, and filling the void made by the lack of government resources.

We know, too, that when a group of social changemakers comes together, wondrous things happen. Since the start of the pandemic, businesses have been looking inward as they evaluate their workplace policies and figure out how best to ensure the safety of their employees while keeping their operations running. Many are beginning to look outward to identify the ways their business and employees can help nonprofits and people in the community. The benefits of workplace giving are more poignant than ever. While we may not be able to interact as we once did, workplace giving becomes an avenue for donors to help, with just a few clicks of a button. Just as we have seen in the case of natural disasters, we expect to see a surge in employers using their workplace giving programs as an outlet for their employees to safely donate to nonprofits with coronavirus initiatives. We are proud to support businesses and their employees in that endeavor, just as we are honored to serve the more than 120 nonprofits that comprise our membership.

As an extra step to support coronavirus response efforts, we are launching the America’s Charities Coronavirus Response Fund as a way for donors and businesses to provide short and long-term support with a single donation. Visit www.charities.org/coronavirus for details.

The coronavirus has already reached its long tentacles into our community. From how we work, to how our children are educated, to how we interact and support each other, to how we advocate for the health and safety of ourselves and our loved ones, we know it’s a stressful time right now. America’s Charities will be with you every step of the way, providing you resources during this fluid time. On our website, we have compiled all of the coronavirus resources and information we can, from this article and elsewhere. We encourage the public to continue visiting this page as we will keep it updated while the pandemic progresses and new needs emerge.

Thank you for all that you do. Stay safe.