In the first half of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic turned American life upside down. By mid-October, millions of Americans had been infected with the new coronavirus, and more than 216,000 had died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the same time, the economy nose-dived into a severe recession as states across the country shut down businesses to contain the virus’s spread.
The one-two punch of the pandemic and the recession has caused widespread suffering, as people worry about their health and their finances at the same time. Many are ill or caring for others who are ill. Many have lost their jobs and are struggling to put food on the table. Parents who remain employed are wrestling with the challenge of trying to work and supervise online classes or home-school their kids at the same time. Plus, nearly everyone’s mental health is suffering from the stress of the situation and the loneliness brought on by isolation.
And that’s just in the United States. In some other countries around the world, the situation is even worse. The coronavirus outbreak is adding to the destruction already caused by ongoing wars, poverty, and inadequate medical care.
In the middle of a public health crisis like this, it’s natural to want to do all you can to help. If you’re lucky enough to be both healthy and employed, your first impulse might be to donate money to a charity helping out with the relief efforts. However, if you simply choose a charity at random, your money may not do as much good as you want it to.
For one thing, there are always scammers trying to take advantage of the chaos in any crisis. The U.S. Department of Justice has warned that some “charities” seeking donations during the pandemic could be coronavirus scams. But also, even among real charitable organizations, some are making better use of their money than others. Your donation will do the most good in the hands of an effective charity that’s making a real difference in the fight against COVID-19.
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 dollars. 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.
1. 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. It particularly welcomes donations of blood plasma from people who have already had COVID-19 and made a full recovery. The antibodies in their plasma can help current patients recover from the disease faster. Cash donations can also help the organization carry out its disaster relief programs globally during the pandemic.
CharityWatch gives the American Red Cross a grade of A- and names it as one of the top organizations providing COVID-19 relief. The charity is also accredited by the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, another charity watchdog. This means it meets all 20 of the organization’s standards for effectiveness, financial health, oversight, and transparency. Charity Navigator gives the American Red Cross an overall score of nearly 90 points out of a possible 100 — almost enough to earn its highest 4-star rating.
The stated mission of Americares is to “save lives and improve health for people affected by poverty or disaster so they can reach their full potential.” Amid this particular 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 October 2020, it had delivered more than 2.5 million masks, 129,000 gloves, and 40,000 gowns to health care facilities in the U.S. and 23 other countries.
- Clinical Care. Americares operates health care clinics in Columbia, El Salvador, and Connecticut. Its South American clinics are providing care throughout the crisis and referring patients for COVID-19 testing. Meanwhile, its Connecticut clinic is treating patients through telemedicine.
- 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 98 points out of 100. The organization names it as one of the top six nonprofits providing multifaceted assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic. Americares is also BBB-accredited.
3. 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 October 2020, it had provided over 30 million N95 and surgical masks, 7 million gloves, 1 million face shields, and tens of thousands of protective suits. It’s also supplying intensive care units (ICUs) with crucial medications that are likely to run short, such as antibiotics and sedatives. And it’s supplying equipment like oxygen concentrators that can free up ICU beds by helping patients breathe on their own.
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 centere. This helps ensure that these vulnerable patients don’t lose access to care during the crisis.
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.
4. 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 while also providing treatment, education, and mental health support for COVID-19 patients. It is also working with health facilities and local authorities in many of the countries where it operates. The organization is helping them cope with the outbreak and improve infection-control measures to slow its spread.
Doctors Without Borders is not currently rated by the BBB Wise Giving Alliance. However, it receives an A grade from CharityWatch and a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator, with 94 points out of 100. Charity Navigator names it as one of the top six organizations fighting COVID-19 through direct medical care.
5. 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 struggling with 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 94 points out of 100.
6. 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. Among other programs, it provides 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 as well as 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.
One of the most straightforward ways to lift people out of poverty is to put money directly into their hands and let them decide how best to spend it. That’s the mission of GiveDirectly. It has provided money to refugees and is currently conducting the world’s largest longest-term experiment into universal basic income. As the coronavirus pandemic drives more people globally into poverty, GiveDirectly has started two new funds to help them. One delivers cash to vulnerable families in Africa, while the other aids 100,000 new SNAP users in the U.S.
GiveDirectly appears on both CharityWatch’s and Charity Navigator’s lists of the top organizations to support during the pandemic. It has a 4-star, 98-point overall rating from Charity Navigator and a rare grade of A+ from CharityWatch based on its extremely efficient use of funds.
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
- Giving food aid to starving women and children
- Providing PPE for first responders in South America
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 a variety of 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
- Creating a help line for people in Puerto Rico experiencing possible COVID-19 symptoms
- 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
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 and 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 85 points out of 100. Although it meets all of Charity Navigator’s standards for open and ethical behavior, it gets only moderately good scores for its use of funds.
11. International Rescue Committee
The International Rescue Committee provides aid to communities facing humanitarian crises, including wars and natural disasters. It currently operates in more than 20 U.S. cities and 39 other countries. Its programs during the COVID-19 pandemic have included:
Providing food, medicine, and health services to refugees
Setting up hand-washing stations in shelters for migrants
Supplying aid workers with PPE and training in how to use it
The International Rescue Committee has an A grade from CharityWatch and is BBB-accredited. Charity Navigator awards it a 4-star rating, with 91 points out of 100, and names it as one of the best organizations providing medical services during the pandemic.
12. 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 cash and legal aid for laid-off workers in the U.S. It’s also providing sanitation services like soap and clean water to crowded refugee camps around the globe.
CharityWatch gives Oxfam America a grade of A- 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.
13. 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 around the world, 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 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. 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.
Both CharityWatch and Charity Navigator name Save the Children as one of the top organizations to support during the pandemic. CharityWatch gives the organization a grade of A- and Charity Navigator awards it a 4-star, 93-point overall rating. The charity is also BBB-accredited.
14. 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. Its Neighbors Helping Neighbors initiative connects teams of volunteers with people affected by the pandemic in their communities, providing 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 a grade of A-minus. Charity Navigator gives it a 4-star rating with an overall score of 98 points out of 100.
15. 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 provide PPE, medical equipment, and hygiene supplies to health facilities, child care facilities, and schools as well as critical care training for health workers. It is also working with schools and ministries of education to provide high-quality distance learning and reopen schools safely. As soon as a vaccine is available, UNICEF will work to acquire and distribute doses in lower-income countries around the world.
UNICEF USA is not a BBB-accredited charity. It meets 19 of the Wise Giving Alliance’s 20 standards, but it gets a rating of “unable to verify” for accurate expense reporting. However, it gets an A from CharityWatch and a 4-star, 91-point rating from Charity Navigator.
16. 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 30 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 or Charity Navigator. CharityWatch has a report on the organization but does not name it as a top-rated charity. However, 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 a variety of goods and services, including PPE and other health supplies and cash. You can’t always help companies with their work through donations, although some businesses have set up special funds that can 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 — including New York, New Jersey, Michigan, and California — faced dire shortages of PPE and other crucial equipment, such as respirators. 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 they 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
- Tool company Harbor Freight
- Cosmetic company L’Oreal USA
- Jeans manufacturer Lucky Brand
- Toy company MGA Entertainment
- 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, $217,000 for the Meals on Wheels COVID-19 Response Fund from GSN Games, and 50 million meals from car manufacturer Subaru in partnership with Feeding America. Other companies are donating all or part of their profits from sales of specific products, such as Popsockets’ Dogtor and Open Your Heart cellphone hand grips.
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. The meal delivery service Everytable is supplying meals to food banks and food pantries in the Los Angeles area.
Some companies are donating services rather than products. For example, the language translation platform Voyce donated 100,000 minutes 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 a variety of 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 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 organizations too much in time and money to ship these items to the areas where they’re needed. In some cases, well-meaning people donate things that aren’t useful at all, such as the winter coats and scarves that poured in after a tsunami in a tropical region. 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 topics including:
- The latest advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on how to keep yourself and your family healthy
- The CARES Act and other relief measures
- Coping with unemployment or remote work
- Resources for small businesses
- Schools and remote learning
- Maintaining mental and emotional health while social distancing
Which of the charities on this list would you be most likely to support? Why would you choose it?