Support your local restaurants by ordering take out, gift cards, or other merch.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

An urgent shortage of N95 face masks in hospitals, stock in blood banks and volunteers for food banks is creating very real road blocks for the first responders who are providing care and food to people in need during the coronavirus outbreak. Since many states are ordering or urging residents to stay home, knowing how to volunteer and donate is key — especially when you’re social distancing.

While the world braces for cases of the COVID-19 disease to swell and for the economic and social impacts to fully make themselves known, read on for ways you can act — from donating personal protective equipment to hospitals to remote volunteering or sending a letter to a stranger just to let them know you’re there. 

Do you have ideas for ways to help out? Share them in the comments below.

Hospitals need face masks, hand sanitizer and more

Hospitals are running low on personal protective equipment (PPE) and are in need of items like N95 respirator masks, disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer and liquids, soaps, goggles and disposable gloves. If you have an abundance of any of these items in your home or see some at the store, your area hospital could use your help. 

This database circulating on Twitter lists hospitals and the kind of supplies you can donate. If you have extra items at home, call your hospital or donation center and ask if and how they’re accepting donations.

Many people are making cloth face masks for use in hospitals and at home. Be aware that they may not effectively protect against coronavirus — here’s what you need to know.

Food banks: Donate money and food, volunteer

With school closures, mandates to shut non-essential businesses and projected unemployment, food banks across the country are expecting to see an increase in demand.  Many, like the Food Bank For New York City, are posting urgent requests for donations and volunteer hours — carefully. Senior citizens, families that rely on school meals and low-income or hourly workers are the most affected groups. 

A $1 monetary donation usually provides between two and five meals, depending on the food bank.

Feeding America is another source for food banks across the country that are seeking financial support as part of its response to COVID-19. 


Offer to pick up groceries for your neighbors.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

You can also donate canned or other shelf-stable foods like dried beans and pasta, but check your local food bank’s protocols first. For example, the SF Marin Food Bank asks that you use your own collection containers and that you deliver the food to one of its warehouses in person. They won’t be picking up donations at this time.

Food banks and soup kitchens also need volunteers to pack and serve food and clean the facilities. If you’re in a low-risk demographic and don’t have contact with people over 60 years old and those with underlying health conditions, signing up for shifts (with the proper precautions) is a significant way to help.

Volunteer remotely

Many organizations have remote volunteer opportunities that you can do from home. For example, Alone is an organization that provides companionship to the elderly. You can become a telephone volunteer where you call and check-in at least two hours each week. (See more ways to help senior citizens below.)

iCouldBe is a student mentorship program where you dedicate one hour each week for the school year. The program provides you with online activities and conversation starters. This could be especially helpful to students who are completing the year as distance learners, and need extra assistance with resources and tutoring — or an extra friend. 

You could also volunteer for Crisis Text Line, where you would be a remote crisis counselor. The organization is asking for volunteers especially between 7 p.m. and 3 a.m. PT. The service includes free training on how to answer texts from people who reach out.

Donate blood the safe way

The Red Cross is facing a “severe” blood shortage as a result of mass donor cancellations during the coronavirus outbreak. There’s also a concern that as the number of people with COVID-19 increases, the fewer eligible donors will be able to give, a representative told CNET through email. 

While millions of people across the country have been instructed to avoid nonessential errands, the Red Cross and other blood banks have put precautions put in place.

For example, the Red Cross is checking each person’s temperature before they enter the building and keeping donors six feet apart. The staff follows protocol by wearing gloves throughout the process and is cleaning surfaces between donors.

One blood bank in Kentucky is following suit, as well as assessing donor health changes since their last visit. They disinfect the donor screening areas, donation beds and equipment throughout the day, and also have a professional thoroughly clean the surfaces each night.

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Buy gift cards and order takeout from local restaurants

Throughout the country, millions of restaurants and bars have been instructed to close their doors to in-person visits — many are still open for takeout and delivery. The impact on employment is already being felt.

You can help keep local businesses afloat by ordering take-out or pickup. In New York, bars are allowed to sell take-out alcoholic beverages for a limited time. Websites across the country are popping up to match eaters with restaurants selling gift cards, like Save Our Faves in San Francisco (co-founded by Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger) and Portland SOS, which also features small businesses. GiftBar sells gift cards in a variety of markets around the US. You can also support restaurants by buying their cookbooks.

The concept is that cash infusions now will help businesses weather the storm. You can also search a business’ website to look for ways to buy gift cards or make donations. 


Buy gift cards to local businesses to help keep them afloat while they’re closed down.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Donate money to organizations helping with medical costs

The HealthWell Foundation is one nonprofit organization that provides financial assistance to help with prescription co-pays, health insurance premiums, deductibles and coinsurance.

GlobalGiving has a coronavirus relief fund that you can donate to as well. Donations go toward medical supplies, delivering essential items to struggling families and older individuals in quarantined cities, feeding children that rely on school meals and more.

Help your neighbors: Groceries, babysitting, video calls

If you’ve got elderly neighbors who can’t make it to the store, check on them regularly by calling, video chatting or sending a text. Offer to pick up groceries and other supplies and offer to bring them meals several times a week — you can arrange to leave them on the porch so you don’t risk spreading germs. 

You can also offer to take them to doctor appointments (sanitize your car first and have them sit in the back to practice social distancing) or ask if they need you to go to the pharmacy to fill their prescriptions (they’ll need to give the pharmacist their permission). 

If your neighbors have kids at home and need babysitting help due to work or appointments, consider making an offer to help, whatever that is — watching them for an hour, loaning them board games or even helping your neighbor with errands. Note that not everyone feels comfortable asking for help, so approach the subject lightly.

How you can help the elderly in care homes

Individuals over 60 years old and those with underlying medical conditions are at the highest risk for developing severe reactions to the COVID-19 disease. These groups are increasingly self-quarantined. Many nursing homes and other care facilities are now closed to visitors as a measure to protect the residents.

You can help alleviate loneliness with regular phone calls, video calls, video messages and text-based chats. Send photos, fun articles, puzzles, adult coloring books and other items to help keep your loved ones and neighbors feeling connected. Consider establishing an upbeat daily call.

If you don’t have a relative living in a nursing home, but would still like to help, you can send flowers, cards or other items to your local care home. Call first to see what their protocol is on outside cookie delivery and hand-drawings from kids. You can also send a letter through an organization called Love For The Elderly.

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While helping others during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s important that you also take care of yourself. Here’s how to help kill the coronavirus in your home, how to help keep coronavirus off your phone, 10 ways to help avoid coronavirus when you have to leave the house and what you can do if you run out of toilet paper. Also, get up to speed on the most important coronavirus terms you need to know now.



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