Humanity stepped up in a big way during COVID’s darkest days
The COVID-19 pandemic brought out the best and the worst in people. The importance of “loving thy neighbor,” meanwhile, was perhaps never more significant.
Billions of people across the globe made sacrifices — whether voluntary or forced — to do their part to help end the global health crisis.
Complete strangers worked as a team to achieve a common goal of eradicating the COVID-19 virus from workplaces, classrooms, complexes, and societies.
Staying home was never more in vogue. Fear of missing out turned into fear of going out. Attaching yourself to your sofa didn’t make you a couch potato, but a de facto hero.
While people hunkered down, frontline workers faced a frightening battle. Hospitals were swamped, ICUs at full capacity. Doctors and nurses scrambled to get the necessary life-saving equipment like ventilators and oxygen tanks for patients in desperate need of care.
Not everyone could be this level of hero. But everyone could help, and many did. The philanthropic efforts of organizations and everyday individuals shined a bright light during the pandemic’s darkest days.
Making a Pledge
More than 800 philanthropic organizations have signed a pledge created by the Council on Foundations calling on them to commit significant resources and reduce grant restrictions to help combat the effects of COVID-19.
The foundations are intentionally allocating these resources to help those in the second-most need and for causes whose importance reach beyond the pandemic’s clutches.
The Council on Foundations touched on this in its call to action to organizations.
“Commit to listening to our partners and especially to those communities least heard, lifting up their voices and experiences to inform public discourse and our own decision-making so we can act on their feedback,” states the call to action.
Philanthropic organizations have taken notice, with a higher percentage of grants having gone to initiatives targeting social justice and Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) causes.
According to Candid, nearly 58,000 grants and pledges have been provided to a total of more than 36,500 recipients for a total of $26.4 billion.
The philanthropic efforts have been vital, as COVID-19 has exacerbated already existing challenges in communities such as entrenched poverty, lack of healthcare access, hunger, and racial inequality.
While other natural disasters have occurred during the pandemic, such as Hurricane Ida, the money from philanthropic organizations has overwhelmingly gone toward COVID-19-related causes.
India, the most populated place on Earth, has been hit hard by the pandemic. The Center for Global Development (CGD) estimates the country may have suffered around 4 million deaths from the virus, 10 times the official tally of around 437,000.
“All estimates suggest that the death toll from the pandemic is likely to be an order of magnitude greater than the official count,” says the Washington, D.C., and London-based nonprofit.
Residents, meanwhile, stepped up. Rotary clubs across the country supported local and state government efforts to provide masks, food, medical equipment, sanitizers, and other relief to help try and flatten the curve.
Groups of people helped get others vaccinated and cared for by setting up vaccine centers, COVID-19 care centers, and oxygen plants. This in addition to efforts to help secure oxygen concentrators hospitals desperately needed.
The Rotary Club of Bombay also set up a helpline for people to call who were experiencing feelings of anxiety or stress from dealing with lockdowns or the virus in general.
Americans, meanwhile, reached into their collective pocketbooks, giving a record $471 billion to charities in 2020 working to help ease the effects of the pandemic and support racial justice causes.
The flood of money came during a recession, typically a period when people are more cautious about spending and hold onto their assets a little bit tighter. The pandemic changed that, even as millions struggled with unemployment, stress, anxiety, sickness, and loss.
Corporations were not as quick to follow suit, though they had their reasons. Businesses in the travel, hospitality, and transportation sectors all experienced significant financial losses during the pandemic, which hampered their ability to give back.
Truly, it was the rise of the little guy. Individuals gave a total of around $324 billion to charity during 2020, compared to $88 billion from foundations. Some of the main beneficiaries were food banks, youth programs, homeless shelters, and human services groups.
Giving during the pandemic was perhaps inconsistent, but nonetheless intentional. Organizations that benefit public society, such as the United Way, received a total of around $48 billion in charitable aid. On the other hand, institutions that relied on in-person events to raise money, such as those in the arts, culture, humanities, and health-related sectors received less.
A study conducted by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute found that more than half of all American households gave back in some way during the early days of COVID-19. Additionally, nearly half of U.S. households engaged in generosity specific to dealing with pandemic-related problems, such as by ordering takeout to support local businesses or paying individuals who could no longer go to work for services such as haircuts or caregiving.
Truly, the pandemic has been a lesson in how to give back to move forward. How to be patient, vigilant, and empathetic. The new normal brought along with it some old lessons.
Giving back doesn’t need to come in the form of cash. Helping strangers can be as simple as offering kindness and grace.
But what showed up time and again, during the worst days of the pandemic, was the same age-old question: How can I help?