It was a perfect spring evening in southern California, and I was taking my neighborhood walk when the smell of carne al pastor floated by. I stopped and turned to see my local taco truck. Why not buy a couple?
Then I pondered the possibilities. Would I have to walk home with my plate? The vendor only took cash, so both of us would have to touch something handled by countless people. And what if the vendor or I was sick? Would we even know if we were asymptomatic?
Reluctantly, I decided not to buy tacos. But wanting to support my local economy, I searched for, found, and donated to this fund for LA-based street vendors. Even if I couldn’t buy tacos, I could support the people selling them.
This was the evening I realized we are in a new economic existence.
Beyond Survivor’s Guilt: How Can We Contribute?
After our study abroad programs were canceled and our students recalled, we were asked to shut ourselves in, enemy lines drawn outside our doors. Our work is to protect ourselves and others from an invisible virus. So we wait. We stay at home.
But as companies begin to fire, furlough, and reduce hours of their employees, a new reality emerges. With millions newly unemployed, we wait to see if we, too, will wake up without a job next week. No wonder one of those most-read articles last month was titled “That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief.” We grieve, not only for those who will get sick but also for our collective inability to pay rent or buy groceries.
I struggled with a type of survivor’s guilt as I watched colleagues lose their jobs or work fewer hours as their companies downsized. I remained grateful for my gainful employment, but that wasn’t enough for me; I wanted to continue to contribute to the economy while building a greater good.
So here’s what I did.
Selecting and Redirecting Funds: How Can We Give Back?
After reading this Washington Post editorial, I considered tangible ways – like redirecting funds – to help others while contributing to the economy. For example, my gas budget; since I do not drive, this money is donated to one charity each week.
It’s easy to feel powerless watching the human toll mount. What can we do to make a difference when we’re stuck at home, disconnected both socially and economically? First, if your own income is secure, you can redirect funds you would have been spending on commuting, movies or restaurants to those who don’t have the privilege of a steady paycheck or stable housing.
I also looked at other places to redirect my budget. I settled on five funds I wanted to support based on the following three criteria important to me:
- Charities with a focus on (im)migrant families, many of whom do not have access to the same relief and unemployment benefits citizens and residents do.
- Charities focusing on housing homeless individuals and families.
- Research and development funds for testing and vaccines.
Your focus may be different. You may want to support women’s shelters, veterans impacted by COVID-19 or other high-need groups. You may choose to support artists, day laborers, or food-service professionals. You may even need this time to focus on taking care of yourself or building your savings to protect yourself from a potential layoff. But if you support the same groups I do, here are the five funds I support:
Immigrant Families and COVID-19
This was initially the most challenging list to compile because before late March, I couldn’t find crisis relief funds for migrant and immigrant families. However, Jose Antonio Vargas first created a Google Doc, “Helping Immigrant Communities,” which led me to another resource list. Finally, I selected the following three groups to donate to:
- National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) Coronavirus Care Fund: This charity is “the leading voice for dignity and fairness for domestic workers in the United States,” and its Coronavirus Care Fund provides “emergency assistance for domestic workers that enables them to stay home and healthy.” Formidably, they’ve raised 75% of their 4-million-dollar goal. If this fund appeals to you, donate here.
- CARECEN Los Angeles’ Immigrant Families Emergency Fund: I knew of CARECEN’s work from my interactions with them at Cal State LA, my former workplace. A charity created by Salvadoran refugees, CARECEN is rated Platinum by Guidestar, a sign of its excellence. So, when I began looking for LA-based charities with coronavirus funds, I was happy to see them develop this. If CARECEN’s work appeals to you, you too can donate here (PayPal link).
- Ayuda’s COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund: This Washington, DC-based group was unfamiliar to me, but they appear to have been one of the first charities to design a coronavirus fund for low-income immigrant families. Their focus on food security and housing and medical needs is transparently excellent, as is their Platinum seal by Guidestar and 4-star Charity Navigator rating. No wonder they’ve already raised over 125% of their $25,000 goal. If Ayuda’s work appeals to you, join me in donating here.
Homeless Families in LA and COVID-19
With nearly 60,000 people homeless in LA County, this issue has been on my mind for years. When COVID-19 arrived in California, these people were the first I considered; how can families shelter in place when there’s nowhere to shelter? So I looked for high-impact charities in LA and read about Upward Bound House, a charity that moves homeless families with children into permanent housing. My weekly gas donation, $30, provides one night of shelter for a person experiencing homelessness. If you’d like to help donate to Upward Bound, join me here.
Research and Development
While the first four groups I mentioned are fundraising and distributing crisis relief funds, I also wanted to donate to research and development essential to responding to this virus. This is why I gravitated to the Gates Foundation that provides funds for diagnostic tools, vaccines, and public health efforts in the Global South. If you’re also interested in contributing to the Gates Foundation R&D fund for COVID-19, donate here.
Final Thoughts on Privilege in the Time of Coronavirus
In preparing this post, I realized I needed to name certain privileges:
- It is a privilege to be fully employed.
- It is a privilege to social distance, working from home.
- It is a privilege to receive a paycheck that fulfills our bills, debts, and leaves us with extra.
- It is a privilege to have more than $1,000 in savings.
If we didn’t already know it, this crisis bares U.S. society’s economic inequalities, worsened by our wounded economy. This is “humanity’s darkest hour,” as the head of the International Monetary Fund said. So what can we do with these privileges? How can those of us still comfortably employed contribute to the economy?
I’m still thinking through these questions. All I know is that, when this is over, I’m never taking street tacos for granted again.
Cover Photo: Gustavo Fring (Pexels)