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How to help your neighbors during the coronavirus outbreak

“Neighbors helping neighbors is really important,” says Michael Murray, business director for AARP California

If you don’t have a neighbor’s phone number, try communicating with them through a closed door.
Liz Kuball

Requests for help are pouring in to a Mutual Aid Network set up by Ground Game LA and People Organized for Westside Renewal, community groups that have snapped into action to help with groceries and medicine deliveries, rental assistance, and pet care.

Kendall Mayhew, one of the group’s co-founders, says hundreds of people have already submitted requests for assistance, and a fundraiser for the initiative has yielded more than $50,000 so far.

“We were situated to kind of take this on when we started to get the information about how serious this was,” Mayhew says. “There’s a lot of people stepping up to the plate right now and being really generous.”

Public health officials stress that the most important way to help others at this time is to simply stay home as much as possible, reducing your chance of both contracting the virus and spreading it to others.

But there are plenty of ways to support your neighbors in a way that doesn’t jeopardize the safety of others. Here are a few ways to lend a hand:

Check in on others

Given social distancing requirements, it’s not a good time to spend time at a neighbor’s house or to sit down for an intimate conversation. But staying connected with neighbors online or over the phone can ensure those who are struggling with health conditions or loss of income are able to access necessary resources.

“Neighbors helping neighbors is really important,” says Michael Murray, business director for AARP California. Because seniors and those with chronic health problems are at greater risk of developing more serious cases of COVID-19, older adults may be especially reluctant to leave the house.

California Volunteers recently put together a list of best practices to keep in mind when checking in on neighbors. For instance, if you don’t have someone’s phone number, try communicating with them through a closed door or leaving a note with your contact information.

Murray says seniors may need help obtaining food or groceries, but simply leaving your phone number or offering to contact relatives who don’t live in the immediate area is a good place to start.

Older adults, says Murray, aren’t the only ones who might need help. Neighbors of all ages can educate one another about public health guidelines and prevent others from feeling socially isolated.

“There are a lot of creative ways we’ve seen people thinking about socializing online—crossword puzzles, book clubs, watching a show at the same time,” he says.

Sometimes, checking in with others is just a good chance to make people aware of resources they may not know about. This extensive list of resources, compiled by local community members, is a good place to start.

Donate

It’s not just the Mutual Aid Network. Plenty of local organizations have set up fundraisers specifically addressed at helping those affected by the outbreak.

A Pandemic Relief Fund established by the United Way of Greater Los Angeles is focused on assisting homeless residents, low-income families, and students.

United Way senior program officer Evelyn Garcia says the fund will benefit local organizations that already serve homeless residents, students, domestic workers, and street vendors—among others.

“Our role is to know what’s happening on the ground and to identify organizations that can mobilize quickly,” she says.

One organization already selected for funding is Inclusive Action for the City, which has created a Street Vendor Emergency Fund for local merchants affected by recent measures taken by city leaders that effectively prohibit most street vendors from operating during the novel coronavirus outbreak. That fund is also accepting direct donations.

Food banks and shelters are also actively soliciting donations right now. You can search for one in your neighborhood using this database managed by the Governor’s office.

A few neighborhood groups are supplying supplies and hygiene kits to unhoused Angelenos. They include KTown for All, the SELAH Neighborhood Homeless Coalition, and the NoHo Home Alliance.

Volunteer

“Many of the most essential functions that will help our neighbors through this crisis are supported by social service nonprofits and their volunteers,” wrote Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti in an email to Los Angeles residents Monday. “As these agencies work to address the increased need for services, I want to make it clear that volunteers will continue to play an essential role.”

One way to find out about volunteer opportunities with organizations maintaining safe social distancing measures is to sign up with the mayor’s volunteer interest list.

According to California Volunteers, food banks are seeking help packing and sorting food. The American Red Cross is also in need of volunteers to provide Los Angeles students with meals while schools are shuttered.

A spokesperson for the United Way of Greater Los Angeles says the organization is developing a “volunteer matching program” to connect those eager to help with opportunities that fit their abilities. Those interested can reach out to bmcfarlin@unitedwayla.org.

The Red Cross is also looking for blood donors due to a blood bank supply shortage created by the recent cancelation of blood drives nationwide.

Finally, given that so many aspects of people’s lives have moved online, it only makes sense that virtual volunteer opportunities have begun to spring up. A few of them can be found at LA Works.