In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic turned American life upside down. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, by July 2021, the coronavirus had sickened tens of millions of Americans and killed more than 600,000. Compounding the problem, the economy nose-dived into a severe recession as states shut down businesses to contain the virus’s spread.
Vaccines are rolling out, but the pandemic and the recession have caused widespread suffering. In the United States, people are dealing with job loss, remote work, homeschooling their kids, and caring for the sick. And in other countries, the coronavirus outbreak is adding to the destruction already caused by ongoing wars, poverty, and inadequate medical care.
One way to help others during a public health crisis is to give to a charity assisting with relief efforts. But it’s important to give wisely. Some “charities” are really coronavirus scams, and even real charitable organizations aren’t equally effective in the fight against COVID-19. But which one do you donate to?
Charities Helping With COVID-19 Relief
Charity watchdogs like CharityWatch and Charity Navigator help donors find the best charities. Each one has its own set of criteria to rate how trustworthy a charity is and how effectively it uses its funds.
When COVID-19 emerged as a worldwide crisis, these organizations, along with news outlets like Wired and The New York Times, published lists of the top charities providing emergency aid during the pandemic. Across all these lists, several organizations show up repeatedly.
Some of them directly provide medical care to people sickened by the COVID-19 virus. Others provide medical supplies like masks and hand sanitizer. Some aid people and communities affected by the pandemic with food or direct cash contributions. And some work across several of these areas at once.
No matter how you want to help those affected by the crisis, one of these organizations can make it happen.
Formerly known as the American Refugee Committee, Alight aids displaced people around the world. It provides health care, clean water, shelter, protection, and financial assistance to over 3.5 million people in 17 countries every year.
Alight has developed several programs to aid marginalized people during the COVID-19 crisis. Its In Our Hands initiative spreads health information about the virus and how to protect yourself from it in many different languages. It’s also providing health care, hygiene, and food aid in nations throughout Africa and Southeast Asia.
Charity Navigator names Alight as one of the top charities providing medical supplies to health facilities during the pandemic. It gives the organization its top 4-star rating, with 96 points out of a possible 100.
Charity Watch also includes Alight on its list of the top COVID-19 charities and gives it an A grade. The charity is also accredited by the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, another charity watchdog. That means it meets all 20 of the organization’s standards for effectiveness, financial health, oversight, and transparency.
2. American Red Cross
The American Red Cross is one of the oldest and most recognized nonprofits responding to emergencies worldwide. Its programs include:
- Providing food, shelter, and comfort to people affected by natural disasters
- Helping communities prepare for future disasters
- Collecting blood from donors and supplying it to patients in need
- Training people in CPR and other emergency first aid
- Providing services and support to military members, veterans, and their families
At present, the Red Cross has an urgent need for donations of blood and platelets from healthy donors. Cash donations can also help the organization carry out its disaster relief programs globally during the pandemic.
The American Red Cross is BBB-accredited. CharityWatch gives it a grade of A- and names it one of the top organizations providing COVID-19 relief. Charity Navigator gives the American Red Cross an overall score of nearly 90 points out of a possible 100 — almost enough to earn a 4-star rating.
The stated mission of Americares is to “save lives and improve health for people affected by poverty or disaster.” Amid this disaster, it’s carrying out this mission through several programs:
- Supplies. Americares is providing personal protective equipment (PPE) and other supplies to health care workers in COVID-19 hot spots. As of April 2021, it had delivered more than 15 million units of PPE and infection-fighting supplies to health care facilities in the U.S. and 32 other countries.
- Clinical Care. Americares operates health care clinics in Columbia, El Salvador, India, and Connecticut. Its clinics are providing care throughout the crisis and referring patients for COVID-19 testing, all while observing strict safety protocols.
- Support. Finally, Americares is leading support groups and training for health care workers dealing with the crisis. Its website also offers resources to help clinics and health workers prepare and carry out a disaster plan for dealing with COVID-19.
Americares is not currently on CharityWatch’s list of the top nonprofit organizations. However, it receives a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator, with an overall score of 95 points out of 100. The organization is also BBB-accredited.
4. Direct Relief
Direct Relief is a humanitarian organization that operates in all 50 U.S. states and over 80 other countries. Like Americares, it aims to improve the health and lives of people affected by poverty or emergencies.
During the pandemic, Direct Relief is working to supply PPE and critical medications to health care workers, making daily deliveries to medical facilities across the U.S. As of July 2021, it has provided over 5,500 tons of PPE and other medical resources, including masks, gloves, face shields, and protective suits.
At the same time, Direct Relief is working to support facilities that provide affordable medical care to the less fortunate, such as free clinics and community health centers. That helps ensure that these vulnerable patients don’t lose access to care during the crisis. And it has helped store and distribute millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines around the world.
Direct Relief is one of CharityWatch’s top-rated organizations, with an A grade overall. It’s also BBB-accredited and has a perfect 4-star, 100-point rating from Charity Navigator. This watchdog names it as one of the top six nonprofits providing medical supplies to hospitals and health facilities during the pandemic.
5. Doctors Without Borders
In nations all around the world, Doctors Without Borders provides medical care to those who need it most. It works in war zones, in areas hit by natural disasters, during epidemics, and in long-term care settings.
During the COVID-19 outbreak, it has continued to provide care through all its regular medical programs. It also provides treatment, education, and mental health support for COVID-19 patients and works with health facilities and local authorities in many of the countries where it operates. The organization is helping them cope with the outbreak and slow its spread.
Doctors Without Borders does not meet all the standards of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance. However, it receives an A grade from CharityWatch and a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator, with 92 points out of 100.
6. Feeding America
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a dramatic increase in food insecurity across the U.S. The economic shutdown has disrupted food supply chains, leading to food shortages and price increases in some areas.
At the same time, many Americans are facing job loss or drastic cuts in income, and children who rely on free or reduced-cost school lunches for a significant share of their daily nutrition can no longer get them. Since the pandemic started, Internet searches for food banks, food pantries, and government food aid have risen by 40% or more.
As the nation’s largest food aid organization, Feeding America is working to keep food on the table for these struggling Americans. Its $2.65 million COVID-19 Response Fund is distributing aid to 200 local food banks across the country so they can continue to serve those in need as demand for their services spikes.
Feeding America is a BBB-accredited charity with a grade of B+ from CharityWatch. Charity Navigator gives it a 4-star rating and an overall score of 92 points out of 100.
7. Gary Sinise Foundation
Many Americans know Gary Sinise best as the actor who played Lt. Dan Taylor in the movie “Forrest Gump.” However, he’s also the founder of the Gary Sinise Foundation, which supports active-duty military members, veterans, first responders, and their families.
The foundation’s programs include mental health care, specially adapted homes and mobility devices for disabled veterans, entertainment, community outreach, and help with bills. Its Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service offers grants to first responders in need of PPE. It also aids health care professionals, service members, veterans, and families affected by COVID-19.
Both CharityWatch and Charity Navigator include the Gary Sinise Foundation on their lists of the top organizations providing COVID-19 relief. The charity has a 4-star, 98-point rating from Charity Navigator and an A grade from CharityWatch. However, the charity does not meet all the standards for BBB accreditation.
GlobalGiving is not so much a charity as a crowdfunding platform that connects small nonprofits worldwide with donors. When you donate to its Coronavirus Relief Fund, your money goes to help a variety of small local organizations engaged in COVID-19 relief work around the world. Their projects include:
- Promoting good hygiene in Uganda
- Providing food and health aid in the Philippines
- Feeding families displaced by conflict in Syria
- Providing PPE for first responders in South America
- Giving food aid to starving women and children around the world
CharityWatch has not rated GlobalGiving, but the organization is BBB-accredited. It also has a 4-star, 98-point rating from Charity Navigator, which names it as one of the top organizations providing COVID-19 aid across a wide range of programs.
9. Heart to Heart International
The humanitarian organization Heart to Heart International aids communities during crises and promotes development and improved health access at other times. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s sponsoring various programs to help control the new coronavirus’s spread in the U.S. and abroad. These include:
- Sending infection-control experts to the Marshall Islands to help that country develop a COVID-19 response plan
- Providing information on COVID-19 through community health workers in Haiti
- Distributing hygiene kits across the U.S. to homeless people and other high-risk populations
- Sending PPE to health care providers on the front lines of the crisis
- Providing free medical care to homeless patients, including free COVID-19 tests
Although CharityWatch has no report on Heart to Heart International, the nonprofit is BBB-accredited. Charity Navigator gives it a 4-star, 96-point rating and names it one of the six top organizations providing medical services during the pandemic.
10. International Medical Corps
The International Medical Corps is a worldwide organization that provides emergency relief, medical treatment, and health care training in communities without enough health care providers. Its COVID-19 programs include supplying PPE and other medical equipment, training health workers, and directly caring for patients.
The International Medical Corps is BBB-accredited. It receives an A grade from CharityWatch, which includes it on a list of the top COVID-19 relief organizations.
However, Charity Navigator gives it only 3 stars out of 4, with an overall rating of 84 points out of 100. Although it meets most of the watchdog’s standards for open and ethical behavior, it gets only moderately good scores for its use of funds.
11. MAP International
This Christian health organization provides medicines and health supplies to people in need all over the world. In times of disaster, MAP International also distributes emergency supplies like water filters, blankets, and clothing to survivors.
During the pandemic, MAP International has focused on distributing PPE to first responders and medical providers. As of February 2021, it has shipped 40 truckloads of PPE across the U.S. and six other countries.
Charity Navigator names MAP International as one of the top charities providing medical supplies during the pandemic. It gives the organization a rating of 4 stars, with 96 points out of 100. Charity Watch gives it a B+ and includes it on its list of the top charities to support during the COVID-19 crisis. The charity is also BBB-accredited.
12. Medical Teams International
People in crisis, such as refugees and survivors of natural disasters, turn to Medical Teams International for help. This Christian relief agency provides lifesaving medical care to people in need worldwide, regardless of race, religion, and nationality.
During the COVID-19 crisis, Medical Teams International has put its 40-plus years of experience fighting disease to work. Its COVID-19 response has included:
- Testing over 32,000 people for coronavirus in Oregon and Washington
- Distributing vaccines in those same states to people who lack access to health care
- Delivering thousands of units to PPE to medical providers
- Operating a 50-bed isolation and treatment center in the Rohingya Refugee Camp in Bangladesh
- Working with national governments to train medical staff to deal with the virus
Medical Teams International is BBB-accredited. It gets an A- from CharityWatch and is on its list of the top COVID-19 charities. Charity Navigator also names it one of the top providers of medical services during the crisis. It gives the organization a 4-star rating, with 93 points overall.
13. Oxfam America
Although it has “America” in its name, Oxfam America works to end poverty in countries worldwide. It aids people during disasters and helps them build better lives for themselves at other times.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s working to provide various forms of aid to those affected by the public health crisis in the U.S. and around the globe. It has distributed cash, food, and sanitation services like soap and clean water and is advocating for better access to vaccines worldwide.
CharityWatch gives Oxfam America a grade of B+ and names it as one of the top organizations providing COVID-19 relief. The charity is also BBB-accredited. However, Charity Navigator gives it an overall rating of only 3 stars out of 4 and 82 points out of 100. It scores very high for good governance and ethics but only relatively high for efficient use of funds.
14. Save the Children
Save the Children is a global organization that focuses on changing the lives of the world’s poorest children. It provides both disaster relief and everyday aid in more than 100 countries worldwide, including the United States. (Save the Children has no connection with the #SavetheChildren hashtag used on social media by the QAnon conspiracy theory.)
During the pandemic, this organization is helping children in affected regions by providing medical and hygiene supplies and health information. It works particularly in high-risk areas like war zones, refugee camps, and overcrowded communities.
At the same time, it provides parents in the U.S. and other countries with guidance and tools to support their children during school closures. And through a partnership with No Kid Hungry, it’s helping children in rural areas get food that school lunch programs would typically supply.
CharityWatch gives Save the Children a grade of A- and names it as one of the top organizations to support during the pandemic. Charity Navigator awards it a 4-star, 92-point overall rating. The charity is also BBB-accredited.
15. Team Rubicon
Veterans who want to continue serving others after leaving the military can do so by volunteering with Team Rubicon. The organization provides global disaster relief, particularly in areas where little help is available, while helping veterans transition from military to civilian life.
Team Rubicon’s Neighbors Helping Neighbors initiative connects teams of volunteers with people affected by the pandemic in their communities. Volunteers provide services like:
- Emergency food aid
- Delivery of food, medicine, and supplies
- Pet care
- Lawn care
- Blood donations
- Regular check-ins to offer emotional support
CharityWatch, which names Team Rubicon as one of the top COVID-19 charities, gives the organization an A grade. Charity Navigator gives it a 4-star rating with an overall score of 98 points out of 100.
16. UNICEF USA
The United Nations International Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, is an official U.N. agency that provides aid to children worldwide. UNICEF USA, formerly known as the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, is a charity that supports UNICEF’s work through fundraising, education, and advocacy. When you donate to UNICEF USA, it helps UNICEF provide children in more than 190 countries with health care, immunizations, clean water, sanitation, nutrition, education, and emergency relief.
UNICEF was one of the first organizations to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. Even before the World Health Organization had declared COVID-19 a pandemic, UNICEF had delivered 6 tons of medical supplies to health care workers on the front lines.
Today, it continues to help with the pandemic on several fronts, including:
- Providing access to testing kits and treatments
- Working with schools and education ministries to provide high-quality distance learning and reopen schools safely
- Distributing food in areas where supply chains have been disrupted
- Setting up hand-washing stations in homes, schools, hospitals, and public spaces
- Working to deliver 2 billion doses of new COVID-19 vaccines in 180 lower-income countries around the world
The BBB does not have a report on UNICEF USA. However, it gets an A from CharityWatch, which recommends it as a top charity to support. Charity Navigator gives it a 3-star, 86-point rating.
17. World Central Kitchen
The food aid organization World Central Kitchen (WCK) brings food to the hungry in the wake of natural disasters. It also works to help communities around the world feed themselves better so they can prepare for future disasters.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, its #ChefsforAmerica program is distributing fresh, individually packaged meals in over 400 cities across the country. The program has provided more than 36 million meals so far.
Isolated seniors can have meals delivered to their homes. Children and families can pick up meals to take the place of school lunches that are no longer available. WCK is also working with restaurants to prepare these meals, providing much-needed jobs for restaurant workers and drivers.
WCK is not currently rated by the BBB Wise Giving Alliance. CharityWatch has a report on the organization but does not name it as a top-rated charity.
However, Charity Navigator gives it 100 points out of 100 in its new Encompass Rating System, which is still in beta. Also, both Wired and The New York Times have recommended this charity as a good choice for people who want to donate food to Americans in need during the pandemic.
Businesses Providing Support
Nonprofit organizations aren’t the only ones aiding people in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. For-profit companies are also doing what they can by donating various goods and services, including health supplies like PPE and cash.
You can’t always help companies with their work through donations, although some businesses have set up special funds to accept them. However, you can choose to support them with your shopping dollars.
Companies Donating PPE
In March and April, as the novel coronavirus first took hold in the U.S., many medical facilities in the hardest-hit states faced dire shortages of PPE and other crucial equipment, such as respirators. New York, New Jersey, Michigan, and California were all affected.
By July, The New York Times reported, the shortages had spread across the country. Health care workers were repeatedly reusing masks designed only for a single use. Some doctors in private practice had to close their offices because they lacked the PPE needed to protect themselves and their patients.
Some American companies have responded to this crisis by donating their own stockpiles of masks, gloves, gowns, and hand sanitizer. Others have produced new PPE for donation or donated supplies to nonprofits to make it. These companies include:
- Tech company Apple
- Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca
- Footwear brand Caleres (manufacturer of Allen Edmonds shoes)
- Designer Christian Siriano
- Disney Parks
- Mattress company Eclipse International (as reported at Insider NJ)
- Fanatics, the official maker of Major League Baseball uniforms
- Underwear brand Hanes (as reported by ABC)
- Tool company Harbor Freight
- Footwear maker Keen
- Jeans manufacturer Lucky Brand
- Toy company MGA Entertainment (maker of Little Tikes)
- Luggage brand Osprey
- Sportswear company Outdoor Research
- Shoe manufacturer New Balance
- Clothing brand Paradised
- Adult brand Pornhub (as reported in the New York Post)
- Tech company Razer
- Tool company Stanley Black & Decker
- Bag manufacturer Tom Bihn
- Vivera Pharmaceuticals, which is making free COVID-19 tests available through Cult for Good
Some companies, rather than donating medical supplies, are helping to make them available at a lower cost. For instance, the tech accessory brand Nomad is using its relationships with suppliers in China to provide reduced-cost medical supplies to those who need them.
Companies Offering Other Donations
Most American companies don’t have a stockpile of PPE or the know-how to produce their own. However, many companies have found other ways to support health care workers and other Americans in need.
Some companies have simply donated cash to support charities. Some notable examples include:
- $45 million from Verizon
- Over $3 million from Starbucks
- $1 million from the footwear company Ugg (as reported by Fashionista)
- $217,000 for the Meals on Wheels COVID-19 Response Fund from GSN Games (as reported by PR Newswire)
- 50 million meals from car manufacturer Subaru in partnership with Feeding America
Other companies are donating their own products. For instance, JBL Audio donated headphones to schools in New York City and seven other cities to help students with distance learning. Many companies are donating products to essential workers, including shoes from Keen, New Balance, and Allbirds; cellphone chargers from T-Mobile; and appliances from GE.
Some companies are donating services rather than products. For example:
- The language translation platform Voyce donated 100,000 minutes (about two and a half months) of its service to hospitals and health care providers.
- Hosts on Airbnb are offering free temporary housing for health care workers, first responders, and relief workers around the world.
- Google and Apple collaborated on a contact-tracing framework to track and alert people who may be infected with the novel coronavirus without compromising users’ privacy.
Finally, too many businesses to list are offering discounts to first responders and health care workers during the pandemic. As a thank-you for their service, these essential workers can get deals on various products and services, including clothing, food and drink, health services, and home products.
If you’re one of the many Americans whose finances have taken a big hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, you may not be able to donate cash no matter how worthy the cause is. However, there are other ways to give on a budget.
For instance, you can donate your time by volunteering for an organization providing COVID-19 relief. You can also donate blood at a Red Cross blood drive if they’re currently running in your area. Or you can use extreme couponing to acquire cheap food for donation to a local food pantry.
However, CharityWatch recommends against donating goods, such as clothing or medicine, to any national or international charity. It costs too much time and money to ship these items to the areas where they’re needed. If you want to donate physical items, find a local charity or community foundation that can distribute them to local people in need.
And if you could use some help yourself during this crisis, check out our roundup of COVID-19 resources. It provides additional information on a variety of topics related to the pandemic, including:
- The CARES Act and other relief measures
- Resources for small businesses and independent contractors
- Suggestions for coping with unemployment
- Maintaining mental and emotional health while socially distancing