As a public service, The Inquirer is making this article and other critical public health and safety coverage of the coronavirus available to all readers.
The social distancing brought about by the coronavirus outbreak doesn’t need to detract from social cohesion.
Throughout the Delaware Valley, people are finding ways to step up to help idled businesses, neighbors and strangers, and asking for the help they need. Whether you want to give back or need assistance, here are some ways you can get and give your neighbors some help.
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Here are a list of groups taking donations to help people affected by the coronavirus in the region:
Here are specific relief funds started by workers and community members:
Business relief funds. The following groups have started local business relief funds, with a goal of providing micro-grants to local business owners.
Help support a local favorite business, and keep it going. In Montgomery County, the first to be hit by Gov. Tom Wolf’s advisory that businesses restrict interactions with customers, residents organized online to support retailers with gift cards to help with cash flow in the short term. That’s a good start, said Michelle Bogosian VP of The Camera Shop on Lancaster Avenue, head of the Bryn Mawr Business Association, who adds that small business will REALLY need support once the crisis has abated.
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“Purchasing gift certificates from local businesses is helpful. But what really helps is loyalty to the local brick-and-mortar,” Bogosian said. "Going just a few times a year — for example, for Small Business Saturday — is not enough to keep the lights on. We understand that Amazon and other online stores are convenient and cheap. We [local business] may not always be the least expensive, but it is important to understand that we pay taxes, employ our neighbors, and are here for support. Being closed for two-plus weeks is really going to impact us and our staff. I do hope that people will learn from this and support their local main street.”
Another group encouraging people to buy gift cards is Rally for Restaurants, which allows you to buy gift cards for a number of Philly restaurants.
Refund your refund: One of the first businesses to close was the Bryn Mawr Film Institute theater, heeding the governor’s order to close entertainment venues. The BFMI has a policy of automatic refunds for advance purchases, and marketing director Gina Izzo said lots of folks were donating their refunds, helping BFMI to meet payroll — its top priority — during a tough time. Other folks, she said, are simply donating money.
“All of the donations that we receive now go to staff compensation, including part time and hourly,” said Izzo, who said folks are using the “support” option on the BMFI website.
Shop remotely: In Ardmore, Marny Baxt owns the gift shop TRACE, among the first businesses to decide to close. She figured the best way to help out was by keeping her employees and customers as safe as possible. Her store is closed, but she’s online, ready to FaceTime with folks who may want to shop, and offers curbside drop-off to interested customers.
“My take on this is that if there are items you looked at and really liked, and thought, I’ll come back and buy that, now is when you need to do it,” said Baxt.
While stocking your pantry, you can help people who can’t stock theirs. In Mount Laurel, where Chris Bruner and wife Jessica run a roofing and siding business, they posted on Facebook last Saturday they’d bring groceries and supplies to folks who couldn’t afford them, or who couldn’t leave home. All requests remain anonymous, he said, and all groceries are free and paid for by the Bruners, who run American Construction.
“We put this out yesterday, and my wife and I were running around until 1 in the morning dropping stuff off. We helped over a hundred families,” he said.
“We know people are scared. Our hope is that we can look back at this time, with our children, and see that the silver lining in all of this is watching a community come together,” he said.
A group of Philly organizers have started Philly Mutual Aid - Neighbors Helping Neighbors to connect those in need with those who can help. They’re looking for volunteers to deliver groceries and medication to people who can’t leave the house, as well as cash donations.
How can you help without adding risk? Dr. Alison Buttenheim, of Penn Nursing, said volunteers serving the elderly, the most at-risk group, should limit exposure by dropping off goods at the doorstep or stoop. She recommends copious use of sanitary wipes on high-touch surfaces: door handles, steering wheel, keys, etc. And, of course, thorough hand-washing before and after each interaction. It’s OK and even encouraged to chat with an elderly person to facilitate a “physically distant but socially rich” exchange. If you’re helping out, she said, “it really just comes down to excruciatingly good hand hygiene.” Buttenheim also reminds people that there are groups out there, and if in doubt, find a group near you and write a check: It will help support the work they’re already doing.
Donations are welcome and volunteers are urgently needed at Philabundance, said communications coordinator Samantha Retamar. The organization has seen “a big dip in volunteers” needed to distribute goods among its 350 partners (such as local food pantries and senior centers).
“We’re asking anybody that’s healthy, that’s not been sick or not been around anyone who’s been sick, or anybody that doesn’t live with an elderly person to volunteer,” she said. You can reach out through Philabundance.org and click through the portal asking for volunteers.
Want to give money or food? Retamar said the organization prefers monetary donations to food donations. “We can stretch that dollar further, we can get the food that people actually need, and we don’t want people going out to the grocery store where the shelves are bare,” Again, donations can be made through Philabundance.org.
There’s been a massive shortage, as blood drives have been canceled. Local officials have asked any individuals who are healthy to donate blood as soon as they are able.
Among those who might feel the most isolated: Seniors. Arthur Weisfeld of Community Senior Services in Delaware County said his organization, on the front lines of providing food and services to seniors, welcomes donations and volunteers. He said that for the elderly, self-isolation — recommended during the outbreak — can create health issues as serious as smoking or diabetes. His organization is organizing telephone outreach to its client base, and said that everyone should remember that “social engagement is very important. and valuable to the well being of (elderly) friends, neighbors and family. Check on them as often as you can.”
Are there things that you can offer people without going outside? Fitness studios are offering free online classes for people cooped up indoors. And two Philly roommates decided to take challenge requests — like reenacting movie scenes, or doing a shot of Smirnoff with a spicy brown mustard chaser — and perform them online to raise money for people who need help. It’s all about getting creative. What do you have to offer?
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Auntbertha.com lists a number of resources for food assistance, tailored to your zip code, but you may need to call around, since some organizations may not be operating at the moment.
WhyHunger Hotline: 1-800-5HUNGRY or 212-629-8850, ext. 4, or text your zip code to 1-800-548-6479 to find a local food provider, including information on what schools are providing takeout meals for children. You can also conduct a search yourself: whyhunger.org/find-food.
Camden County seniors who were already enrolled in the Camden County Nutrition Program are receiving home-delivery meals, but any other senior citizens in need of meals — for any reason — can call the Camden County Division of Senior and Disabled Services at 856-374-MEAL to make immediate arrangements.
OCNJ Care, an Ocean City volunteer group, is offering to assist older people and other at-risk individuals with shopping and other errands, as well as cooking and delivering meals to anyone in need, and other assistance to families in need. For help, or to volunteer, visit www.ocnj.us/ocnjcare, call 609-399-6111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Grocery delivery is still up and running. Here are places that offer it, and what kind of shopper they cater to. Expect some delays, as demand has surged. Restaurants are also still delivering, and dropping off curbside.
Conshohocken Italian Bakery is offering a delivery service to “a senior or member of the community at risk or who are self-quarantining for safety.” They ask those affected to call them at 610-825-9344, and make arrangements to have bread delivered.
The Sweet Trading Co. in Narberth is expanding its “random acts of sweets” program to send baskets of chocolates to local people in community experiencing a tough time. If you or someone you know needs a pick-me-up, contact the company and arrange a delivery.
The Philadelphia School District is providing takeout breakfasts and lunches at more than 80 locations from 9 a.m. to noon weekdays to children 18 and younger.
Mighty Writers, which runs writing workshops for children, is giving out free lunches from noon to 1 p.m. weekdays at two locations: 3520 Fairmount Ave. and at El Futuro, 1025 S. Ninth St.
College prep tutoring service Inspirica Tutors has been doing ACT and SAT instruction in Wayne for three decades. Founder Lisa Jacobson said she was thinking of the closed schools and parents at home with high schoolers who suddenly have a ton of time on their hands, and decided to reach out by offering some of her firm’s tutoring services for free.
“The people in the community have been so good to us. I thought, I have something to give and now is the time to give it,” said Jacobson, who has filled about 1,500 no-charge slots for students looking so sign up for streams of live classes, or to access the company’s on-demand library of course work.
If you’re one of the workers who has been affected by the pandemic, there’s a good chance you’re eligible for unemployment benefits from the state. You can file an unemployment claim online, or call 888-313-7284.
If you’re a small business and need some emergency cash, there are disaster loans available from state agencies.
For servers, bartenders, and others who’ve lost their incomes with the shutdown of restaurants and bars, there’s a Virtual Tip Jar, modeled on one started in Washington, D.C. The idea is to share PayPal or Venmo accounts on social media so that people can help out. Apply through this Google Docs form.
Other funds set up to support workers:
Social distancing can really affect mental health. It’s OK if you’re finding it difficult. Finding a way to exercise and establishing a routine can all help. If you need more help, here are some resources: