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20 Ways to Give Back During a Pandemic

by Hannah Rau

As we approach Christmas time, many of us are thinking about giving. This is the time when many people exchange gifts and give to those in their communities. This year, we find ourselves in a global pandemic—a situation that most of us never expected and that we can’t control. Many are struggling with not just illness, but also unemployment, financial difficulty, and emotional distress that comes from isolation and long-term, low-level stress. However, giving back is something we all can do to help each other get through this difficult and unusual time.

In a pandemic, giving back safely requires some creativity. Virtually all of the things on the following list can be done with social distancing or little to no physical contact with others. Some ideas involve giving material things, but many simply involve time. We can all find ways to give back and help others Relax. Refresh. Renew.

In honor of the year 2020, here are twenty ways to give back during a pandemic:

1. Have a phone conversation/video chat with someone who is stuck at home. Remember, one of the most important gifts you can give someone is your time and attention. Isolation and loneliness can be heavy burdens. Even a short conversation can help someone feel loved and connected.

2. Do an activity over video chat. If you’re like me, you run out of things to say in conversations rather quickly, or you think of things to share only after the call has ended. But you can spend time with each other virtually in other ways too. Play a game together, make a recipe at the same time, or do an arts and crafts tutorial together.

3. Send a letter or card of encouragement to someone who is sick or lonely. Or, just to a friend you haven’t seen in a while. Most people love the feeling of getting something in the mail from someone who cares about them. Consider sending along some stamps so they can mail out their own letters easily.

4. Send a care package to someone. For example, send a self-care kit with soaps and bath salts to a parent or teacher who might need some time to recharge, lotion to an essential worker who washes their hands hundreds of times a day, or snacks to a college student.

5. Do an outdoor chore for a neighbor. For example, rake leaves or shovel your neighbor’s driveway or sidewalk.

6. Run errands for someone who can’t leave their house or who works long hours in an essential worker position. Doing the grocery shopping can be a great help for someone stuck at home. Running errands can also give those working longer hours more time to relax and spend with their family.

7. Pack supply bags for the homeless. Include personal care items (toothbrush, soap, etc.), snacks (granola bars, gum, etc.), and warm accessories for the winter months (gloves, hats, socks, etc.). Keep a few portable bags in your car. Another alternative is to donate supplies to a homeless shelter that can distribute them.

8. Create holiday meals for needy families in your community. Include groceries like instant potatoes, stuffing mix, canned vegetables, brownie mix, etc. Gifting the makings of a special meal or two can help out a struggling family.

9. Donate to a local charity or food bank. You can often do this online, and monetary gifts can often make it easy for charities to direct resources where they’re needed most.

10. Give blood. Hospitals and medical centers need donated blood to help treat patients with many different illnesses. So, if you are able to give blood, it can be a life-saving way to give back.

11. Take a walk outside in a park or along a roadway and pick up trash. More people are spending time outdoors these days since there are fewer indoor recreational choices. Cleaning up shared outdoor space gives back to the community by making nature more inviting for everyone.

12. Offer to tutor a student in an academic subject. With many schools going virtual or changing formats and schedules, students might be struggling with the disruption in learning routines. Tutoring can be done virtually and can help a student succeed, retain skills, and feel more confident. Additionally, if you know families who are teaching their children at home, offering to help out with a topic you are knowledgeable in could help take some pressure off them.

13. Start a little free library or book exchange in your community. With more spare time at home, many people are looking for new things to read, but many public libraries are still closed. A little free library is a small box or cupboard in an outdoor/public space, available for anyone to take a book and leave one of their own. This provides a way for people to access fresh reading material while social distancing.

14. Send activities to individuals or families who might be looking for things to occupy their time. Puzzle books like crosswords and sudoku are great for adults, while coloring books and games are great for kids.

15. Exchange recipes. Try something new while giving someone else the chance to do so as well.

16. Donate gently used items. More time in the house have you decluttering? Drop off unwanted clothing, toys, and household items at a donation center.

17. Give gift cards. Since many families are struggling with loss of income, gift cards to grocery stores, take-out restaurants, etc. are a great option that can be mailed. Buying gift cards to local businesses can help support small business owners right now as well.

18. Share a positive message on social media. There’s enough anger and worry out there. Share something good that happened, a silly moment, or a photo of a beautiful sunrise—something that might make someone smile.

19. Message or text a friend with something you appreciate about them. Letting someone know you’re thinking about them doesn’t have to take a long time. A short text of praise or encouragement can brighten someone’s day.

20. Affirm the people living in your household. Hide notes of encouragement for people within your home. Give extra hugs or words of praise. Remember that everyone is struggling right now, and giving back can start with your own household.

Some things—like a global pandemic—are out of our control, but there are things we can do to make little things better. Remember, this list is just meant to provide ideas—there are many ways to give back, whether that’s your time, material resources, or emotional energy, and you should find the ways that make sense for your personal situation and talents.

Please share your own ideas in the comments!

Hannah Rau is a Michigan-based writer and writing tutor. Her favorite self-care activities include reading classic literature, burning lovely-smelling candles, creating watercolor paintings with instant coffee, and taking rambling strolls outdoors.

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