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How to Help the World When You Can’t Leave the House

By Maggie Fuller

Apr 15, 2020

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There’s a lot you can do to be helpful from home. 

Illustration by Supriya Kalidas

There’s a lot you can do to be helpful from home. 

During the COVID-19 crisis, you can do a lot more from your couch than you may realize.

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For many of us, sheltering at home and staying healthy to help “flatten the curve” of the coronavirus spread may be the most important way we can help others right now. But as the realities of long-term lockdown settle in, I know I started to feel useless just sitting on my couch while health-care workers battled on the frontlines around the world. 

But then the CDC recommended that everyone wear cloth face coverings in addition to following social-distancing protocols. I immediately looked up a tutorial online and started sewing masks for the people in my house. I felt like I was finally, actually helping. Taking action, even in such a small way, filled me with not only purpose but also relief. (It’s not surprising—studies show that helping others can boost our emotional health and reduce stress and anxiety.)

There has been an extraordinary coming together of communities in the face of this pandemic. People are posting offers on social media to deliver groceries to at-risk folks, and food kitchens have started preparing and delivering record numbers of meals. But not everyone can mask up and head out to volunteer. Luckily, if you’re a global citizen, there’s plenty you can do for your city—and for the world—while sitting on your couch. Whether you want to spend a few hours lending a supportive ear at a crisis help line, translate important public-facing COVID-19 information into other languages, or make masks for your community, here’s how to volunteer at home and do a world of good:

Where to donate to COVID-19 relief efforts

Donating money is the fastest and easiest way to help organizations actively fighting the novel coronavirus. It can also be the most effective, because your support enables experts to do what they do best, whether that’s feed vulnerable populations, provide hospitals with life-saving equipment, or supply financial support to those who need it. Here are a few organizations that need support to help fight the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

  • World Central Kitchen: Founded by chef José Andrés, World Central Kitchen (WCK) helps feed doctors, nurses, and first responders and supports restaurants at the same time. WCK partners with organizations, including Frontline Foods and Off Their Plate, which funnel funds directly to local eateries, purchasing meals that volunteers then deliver to hospitals and clinics. Donate here
  • Feeding America: This nationwide network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries is continuing to provide hunger-relief within its communities and mobilizing to help the millions of Americans facing coronavirus-related school closures, job disruptions, and health risks. Donate to the organization or find your local food bank to donate directly.
  • Direct Relief: This humanitarian aid organization is active in all 50 states and 80 countries. You can donate directly to its COVID-19 response, supplying personal protective equipment and essential medical items, such as exam gloves and isolation gowns, to health workers in areas with confirmed COVID-19 cases.
  • Global Giving: An international crowdfunding community, Global Giving connects donors with nonprofits around the world. The platform has created a Coronavirus Relief Fund, which will support relief efforts in more than 100 countries and particularly in vulnerable populations. You can donate to the fund, or to specific organizations, such as Boys and Girls Clubs in Puerto Rico or clinics in Uganda.
  • Save the Children: Focused on short- and long-term relief efforts, Save the Children is working on the ground to protect the health, safety, and psychological well-being of children in the United States and around the world during the coronavirus crisis. The organization is providing medical supplies and training to health teams around the world. It is also partnering with No Kid Hungry, to support community programs feeding vulnerable children. Donate here
  • International Rescue Committee: The International Rescue Committee focuses on helping communities with weak health systems that are less prepared to combat COVID-19 in countries including the United States, Greece, Syria, and Yemen. Donate to help such efforts as sharing information, training health-care workers, and continuing work with refugees around the world and at U.S. borders. 

How to volunteer remotely for COVID-19 relief efforts

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If you, like I did, feel the need to take more action than clicking the “donate” button, there are a number of things you can do at home and online to help out during this pandemic. Volunteer-finding platforms such as Idealist and VolunteerMatch help you find the right cause and organization for you, and both have options for filtering remote-only and coronavirus-specific opportunities. Some of these are one-time events, and others require a more regular commitment. Here are a few we’re interested in:

Make masks and donate them to local organizations

As the CDC and hospitals across the country ask that we all reserve medical-grade masks for health-care workers on the frontlines, there’s an increasing need for homemade cloth masks for the rest of us, and especially for local aid organizations. If you like sewing, there are a number of mask tutorials online. Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores is currently leading a donation drive and will send donated masks to local hospitals. You can also check with local medical facilities, food kitchens, nursing homes, and community organizations on your own to find out other places accepting mask donations. 

Write letters to the elderly in nursing homes

Social isolation is often a problem in elder care facilities, but now that most are closed to visitors, it’s an even bigger problem. You can help fight loneliness and become a remote friend to the elderly in care facilities in your area or even in other parts of the country. Love for the Elderly is asking for kind, hand-written letters to send to senior facilities. Also consider reaching out to nursing homes in your area to see if they’re accepting puzzles, coloring books, and clipped articles from magazines and newspapers.

Translate COVID-19 information for the public

Translators Without Borders works to improve humanitarian communication for the innumerable aid organizations around the world. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is looking for individuals to help with translating documents that will convey important information about the virus and how to prevent its spread to people around the world. Even if you aren’t fluent in another language, you can also volunteer to help map language data, identify key COVID-19 terminology, and monitor social media for misinformation. 

Staff a crisis lifeline

The coronavirus pandemic is not only triggering anxiety for many but it has also disrupted a lot of in-person support systems, and crisis hotlines are seeing an increase in demand as a result. Most of these organizations, like Crisis Text Line or Suicide Prevention Lifeline require a specific commitment from their volunteers, who need to be trained in proper response. But if you’ve ever considered helping out at one, now is the perfect time to do so.

How to volunteer remotely for ongoing humanitarian efforts

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Most nonprofits around the world operate on a shoestring budget even in the best of times. During this pandemic, they still need help with their usual operations, and that includes virtual volunteer opportunities. And there’s probably something for just about any skill you have (or want to hone)—graphic design, accounting, social media, web development, and more. Idealist and VolunteerMatch are great resources, as is Catch a Fire, which conveniently notes the length of commitment needed for each project, and GivingWay, which allows you to look for volunteer work in specific parts of the world. Here are a few other ways of volunteering online that we love.

Help virtually at a local Red Cross

The Red Cross is best known for its blood drives and local disaster relief work. But there are many online roles that go into helping such a large organization function. Case monitoring, translation, talent acquisition, coding, and digital tool testing are all things that the Red Cross is regularly looking for help with. The Red Cross typically asks for a yearlong commitment, but the timing and number of hours per day or per week changes with the position. To find an opportunity, use the volunteer role finder tool or search by keyword or role by typing “virtual” or “NHQ” (which stands for National Headquarters) into the search bar. 

Put your love of reading to use

For history buffs and book nerds, these two volunteer opportunities won’t even feel like work. With Smithsonian Transcribers, you can transcribe images of historical documents, including field notes, diaries, ledgers, logbooks, photo albums, and manuscripts, into digital form to help make this data more accessible. And with Bookshare—which created a library that makes reading easier for people with dyslexia, blindness, cerebral palsy, and other reading barriers—you can scan textbooks, best sellers, children’s books, and career resources or proofread and format scans that others have made.

Volunteer online for the United Nations

Much like the American Red Cross, the United Nations (U.N.) has myriad volunteer needs that can be done remotely. Its online platform matches volunteers with U.N. partner organizations that are ending poverty, building peace, advancing gender equality, and more for roles that include outreach and advocacy, research, teaching and training, technology development, and administration.

Research and expose human rights violations

Amnesty International’s Amnesty Decoders program gamifies and crowdsources research. Using your computer or phone, you’ll sift through photos, information, and documents and answer simple questions to help identify human rights violations. Past projects have included analyzing Tweets about female politicians in India for abusive language; using satellite imagery of remote villages in Darfur to find evidence that they’d been attacked; and verifying investigation reports about oil spills in the Niger Delta to find false or misleading information. Note: Currently, the program doesn’t have any active projects, but if you register, you’ll be notified when the next one launches. 

>>Next: I Traveled Last Week for a Good Cause. Did I Do More Harm Than Good?

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