COVID-19: How you can help those in need in Atlanta

How to help the homeless, the elderly, restaurant workers, animal shelters, and more

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How to help Atlantans coronavirus

Photograph by Color_life / iStock / Getty Images Plus

With a never-ending stream of tense COVID-19 news, it’s easy to feel helpless about what’s happening in the community. People in the service industry are at risk for losing their jobs as business slows down and comes to a halt, children who rely on school lunch are missing meals while schools are closed, and and many crucial fundraising events for nonprofits canceled. If it feels bleak, giving back to the community, even in a small way, might help you feel better.

“Helping the community is even more critical right now,” says Protip Biswas, vice president of regional commission on homelessness for United Way of Atlanta. Most homeless organizations have had to stop working with volunteers to protect a population that lives in close quarters. But this means donated resources have become even more vital as they’ll have to hire temporary staff.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all way to help the community right now. “We’re all trying to grapple as this is a unique situation. Our community has always responded well, and I knew they would,” Biswas says. It is absolutely important to socially distance by limiting contact with other people and follow CDC recommendations, but keep reading to see the different ways organizations are seeking help.

And if you need help but not sure where to start, Biswas says to call United Way’s 2-1-1 line, which connects people with community-based resources.

On March 16, the United Way of Greater Atlanta and Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta announced their Greater Atlanta COVID-19 Recovery Fund. Money in the fund will be used to support the most vulnerable populations hit by the pandemic (including seniors, families with children who receive school lunch, families who usually receive childcare, and hourly workers). The Community Foundation is contributing 1 million dollars and the United Way $500,000. If you’d like to make a donation you can do so here.

How to help workers in the food and beverage industry
Food and beverage industry workers typically don’t have benefits and are only paid when they work. Restaurants and coffee shops are experiencing less traffic and many have started to temporarily close and cut staff.

“I think that [restaurant industry workers] are on the front lines for the impact the coronavirus has in our communities from an economic perspective. There’s no telework option,” Bryan Schroeder, executive director of Giving Kitchen, a Georgia nonprofit that provides relief to food and beverage industry workers in crisis. They are accepting donations of any amount and have a list of resources for restaurant workers on their website. “I think that beyond the COVID-19, there’s going to be this extra strain on food service workers, because it’s diminished hours and diminished funds,” Schroeder says. “So we anticipate a significant increase in people making requests for financial assistance.”

Another way to support the food and beverage industry is to order takeout from your favorite spots. Many sit-down restaurants like Miller Union, Banshee, and Hampton + Hudson are offering curbside pickup to help minimize social interaction. If you don’t feel comfortable or are unable to get takeout, consider buying a gift card (many restaurants have them online) or order merchandise online so that the restaurants can get some immediate cash.

“For right now, we’re going to watch the situation and see how it evolves, and also see what the public policy response is going to be to people who are underemployed or laid off because of the pandemic,” Schroeder says.

How to help the homeless population
Several homeless shelters are cutting off access to volunteers as a precaution, so the best thing you can do to help the homeless population right now is donate resources. “This is a great time to help financially,” Biswas says. “If you’ve been active with an organization or you’re interested in organizations as a voluntary pick-up, there are people who need the resources, and nonprofits need the money.” Or donate items. “For example, hand sanitizer. All the things that other people need, our homeless folk need. Those donations would be very welcomed by our partners,” he says. Check the website of your preferred organization, such as Atlanta Mission, Gateway Center, or HOPE Atlanta, to see which items are most needed.

How to help the elderly
While some organizations are temporally banning volunteers, John Penninger of Open Hand, an Atlanta organization that delivers balanced meals to food-insecure senior citizens, says, “for us it’s the opposite. We need more volunteers.” Open Hand typically makes 4,500 meals a day, and adding additional volunteer shifts will help them make more. If you can’t volunteer, they’ll gladly accept monetary donations as they are unable to accept food donations directly.

Meals on Wheels Atlanta, which also delivers food to the elderly, is accepting donations via Cash App ($MOWATL) and Venmo (@MOWATL), making it very easy to give funds.

Don’t take for granted the simple kindness of checking on your elderly neighbors and relatives (with caution—calling on the phone is preferable to vising in person). Call and see if they need help getting groceries, and just offer reassurance during this scary time. Remember that practicing social distancing ultimately helps protect the elderly.

A.G. Rhodes, a nonprofit community of nursing homes with three locations in Atlanta, has stopped allowing visitors but is asking the community to send letters and words of encouragement. It’s a great way to offer support to the senior community from the comfort of your own home. You can send the notes via email or snail mail and can find instructions here.

How to help furry friends
Animal shelters and rescues especially need help right now, too. Angels Among Us pet rescue had to postpone their annual “For the Love of Paws” gala to this summer. “Galas are our biggest moneymakers,” says board member Lisa Zambacca. “When the money comes in, we go running out to the shelters to save as many lives that we can. What [we’re] really nervous about [as a rescue organization] is what’s going to happen to the dogs and cats in a financial downturn.”

“People are [focused on] keeping their families safe, and unfortunately, animals are going to suffer because of that,” says cofounder Luann Farrell.

One of the best things you can do right now is consider adding a temporary member of the family. “You can foster a dog or a cat, too. You’re inside your home now,” says Zambacca. Farrell adds, “Might as well have fun.” They are also working to help get pets adopted.

PAWS Atlanta is in serious need of fosters according to their social media networks. Atlanta Humane has closed their shelter to the public and is all set with fosters for the time being but you can keep an eye on their social media.

How to help the food-insecure
The Atlanta Community Food Bank (ACFB) also had to cancel one of their largest fundraisers (the Hunger Walk Run) but is still working to provide food to food-insecure Atlantans, especially in the face of school closures. Beginning Monday, March 16 they’re accepting food donations at their new location (3400 Desert Drive). You can see what their most needed items are here. Right now, they are still working out how to handle having volunteers help sort and package food.

Atlanta-based startup Goodr is partnering with Atlanta Public Schools to help provide meals to children while schools are closed. According to a social media post on the company’s website, they’ll be distributing meals at five locations in the metro area. They’re also looking for volunteers and suggesting texting DOGOODR to 33777.

In Forsyth County, Socks’ Love Barbecue is offering to share food with people out of school or work, more information here.

Concrete Jungle, an Atlanta nonprofit that picks fruit growing around the metro area and distributes it to the homeless, is seeking volunteers to help distribute donations.

How to help everyone
Stay home and maintain social distance! Even if you aren’t showing symptoms of any illness, you could still be carrying the virus and unknowingly spread it to people with compromised immune systems, or spread it to other healthy people who will then spread it to people with compromised immune systems. If you must go out for essential supplies and food, use drive-thrus and curbside pick-up as much as possible.

Give your friends and family a call to check in. We’re all stressed out right now and could use a reminder that we’re not alone during this time of social isolation.

Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. Hand sanitizer with 60 percent alcohol is a good back-up but experts still recommend washing with soap as the primary defense.

Don’t hoard supplies like masks, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper. Panic buying these items will make it even harder for at-risk groups (the elderly and those with compromised immune systems) to get the things they need.

SitterTree, a local babysitting service, is partnering with local businesses and congregations to provide medical personnel in need of childcare with “Sitter Bucks”. This helps in two ways: medical personnel get the childcare they need and the college kids in SitterTree’s network get some cash. You can purchase Sitter Bucks gift cards here.

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