Editor’s note: This is one in a periodic series called Stepping Up, highlighting moments of compassion, duty and community in uncertain times. Have a story we should tell? Send it via email to newstips@seattletimes.com with the subject “Stepping Up.”

You’ve decided to help others during the coronavirus pandemic, but that might be the easy part.

Figuring out where to help can be overwhelming, with people in nearly every field and age group struggling, leading to so many requests for help and so many reputable charitable organizations providing it.

You can help people and animals, restaurants and renters, children and seniors, the hungry and the homeless. You can make purchases, make financial gifts or give your time. But whose request do you fulfill?

The answer, many say, lies within.

“If people are trying to decide what they want to support, definitely follow their passion,” said Laura Hamilton, development director for Northwest Harvest, the nonprofit, statewide food-bank distributor. “What’s important to an individual? What are their interests in nonemergency time and what speaks the most to them? If it truly is about food, and it’s important to someone ensuring that everyone has equitable access to food, then a place like Northwest Harvest would be a good match.”

More on the COVID-19 pandemic

Don Doering created the website COVID-19 help for Washington to provide resources for both potential donors and those in need when he felt there was an absence of such sites. He echoed the importance of finding something that’s “the right fit.”


“There are so many ways to help, whether it’s sewing masks at home at night or helping people through Facebook delivering meals,” said Doering, executive director of JRS Biodiversity Foundation, an independent grant-making foundation based in Seattle. “Just pick something that’s going to work and be satisfying, because every little bit helps.”

Food for thought

If your passion is dining out, a good fit would be supporting restaurants, which have been hit particularly hard during the coronavirus as the statewide stay-home order forced dining rooms to close. Eateries still open are serving takeout or delivery only.

One way to help, open or closed, is by buying gift cards.

“They give a restaurant cash today and the expense of that doesn’t happen until you buy something at the restaurant,” said Bob Donegan, president of Ivar’s restaurants and seafood bars.

Ivar’s has closed its three full-scale restaurants, but most of its fish bars remain open. Donegan said pickup and delivery orders at Ivar’s have increased from 5% to 39%. It’s most beneficial if customers order through the restaurant, he noted.

“Delivery services charge restaurants between 12 and 30% of the ticket price as a delivery fee,” Donegan said. “If you order through a company’s website, the restaurant doesn’t have to pay that fee.”


(On the other hand, people making deliveries for UberEats and Door Dash are trying to get by, too.)

Anthony Anton, president and CEO of the Washington Hospitality Association, said 75% of workers in the state’s hospitality industry are unemployed.

His organization points to three organizations that are accepting donations to help restaurant workers — the Restaurant Employee Relief Fund, led by celebrity chef Guy Fieri; Big Table, that has offices in Seattle and Spokane; and The Plate Fund of Greater Seattle.

Anton said there’s another thing people can also do:

“Let the decision-makers in your community and lawmakers know to please help hospitality,” he said. “Start spreading the news and the information. Not everyone can afford to do something, but even just that is supporting your local restaurants and the people that are hurting, and it means something. Those messages of support and hope mean a lot right now.”

Think local, think small

Let’s say you want to focus your help on your own particular community. What would be the best way to help?

“This is such an important topic, because there are so many ways to help in your community,” said Matt Pina, mayor of Des Moines, located on Puget Sound about 15 miles south of Seattle. “Some people have more money than time, others have more time than money, and some people are in the middle, but wherever you are, there are a lot of options.”


Downtown Des Moines is full of businesses that have been shut down, he said, and had to shut down its senior center. The center did continue its lunch program, which Pina said could use both volunteers and money.

However, Pina said that, as important as money can be, “what is sometimes more important is where can I help and not think just about the financial aspect of things.”

He noted that the food bank in Des Moines has been asking for volunteers to help package food.

There are other ways to help, too, Pina said.

“It’s not just about money at this time, it’s about taking care of each other,” he said. “ … Think about the folks who live alone and who are uncomfortable going out and having a hard time connecting with people. These folks just need real people to talk to. You can stand up outside the window and talk to them, or you can call them.

“If you go through your personal contact list, you will find people that you haven’t talked to in a long time. I wonder how they are doing?”

Other things to think about

One of the most basic, undeniable needs is food. You’ve likely seen the images of long lines of cars outside food banks. They are obvious places to help, as is Northwest Harvest, the umbrella organization for food aid, which says monetary donations are best right now.


Also, look in your mailbox or email: You may have received an appeal from a cause you already support.

Numerous nonprofits are launching relief efforts, and local arts organizations are seeking emergency funds just to stay afloat.

Blood banks are exempt from the stay-home order and have been pleading for donors.

While there are many reputable organizations doing good things during the coronavirus, it also has opened the door for scammers.

“In this unprecedented situation, many of us are searching for ways to help,” Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement. “Unfortunately, scammers look for ways to prey on Washingtonians’ good will.”

Research is the key to avoiding getting scammed. One thing people should do is check to see if the charity is registered with the Secretary of State at sos.wa.gov/charities and check the charity’s rating by the Better Business Bureau at www.give.org.


One way to lessen the research is to donate to reputable organizations such as the United Way, which disperses money to various charities.

Gordon McHenry Jr., CEO of United Way King County, echoed to let passion be your guide in sifting through the options.

“What we are concluding is that the greatest needs that we are seeing is helping people pay their rent, and helping shore up the emergency food-distribution system,” McHenry said. “There are a lot of people who never depended on others to feed themselves and feed their families, and we want to make sure they get the support they need.”

United Way has seen an uptick in donations but not enough to match the growing number of requests. McHenry also noted that the need will continue even after the crisis-response phase transitions to crisis recovery.

“How do we recover from people being physically sick and distanced, isolated and loss of income to get back on track?” he said. “There will be lots of opportunities for our community to help each other in crisis recovery. I would encourage people to be active in crisis response and continue to be active in terms of volunteerism and donations when we get into the crisis recovery phase. This is going to be a long journey.”

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