(March 12, 2020) If there is one thing New Yorkers believe about themselves, it’s that no one pulls together quite as well during a crisis.
Vigorous hand-washing, staying home, bumping elbows instead of hugging — we got that. But with more than 200 confirmed cases of coronavirus in New York and more than 1,110 nationwide, some people are asking if they can do more to help.
“It’s been so internally focused,” Chris Principe, 40, said of the advice he has heard from public officials. Mr. Principe, who lives in Brooklyn and is a video director at the publishing company Condé Nast, said he assumed there would be ways for people to assist others.
That has been a common question, said Kathryn S. Wylde, president and chief executive of the Partnership for New York City, an association of major businesses in New York. But large-scale efforts have been hampered in part by safety concerns. The number of cases has increased, even as the capacity to test for the virus has remained limited, prompting concerns about accidental exposure.
“Because of the fear of social contact, nobody fully knows who has it and who doesn’t it,” she said.
Still, there are some options for people who are feeling both healthy and altruistic. The Times spoke with several organizations about how best to help.
Check on older neighbors
Older people seem to be particularly susceptible to contracting the coronavirus, according to health officials. Some are staying at home and, as a precaution, may not open their doors to visitors.
One way to check on homebound older residents without jeopardizing their health is to call or send a text, said Eric. S. Goldstein, the chief executive officer of the UJA-Federation of New York, which provides food, health care and other services to people in need.
If telephone calls and texts are not an option, “talk through the door,” Mr. Goldstein said. Because some people may recoil at the suggestion that they are not self-sufficient, Mr. Goldstein suggested offering to help in a low-key way, such as saying, “I’m running to the market, can I get you anything?”
Safely drop off food for people under quarantine
Last week, the UJA-Federation of New York canceled a dinner gala in Westchester hours before it was to take place. The food had already been paid for, so the organization asked its caterer if it could be boxed up and delivered to people quarantined in Westchester, where many of New York’s cases are linked. The caterer agreed.
The food was delivered via a method that could be described as a ding-dong-dash. Recipients were notified in advance that a delivery was on its way. Volunteers walked up to the door, rang the bell and left a bag of the packaged food on the door handle or porch.
Then, the delivery volunteer left before the recipient opened the door.
A spokeswoman for the Red Cross, which provides disaster relief and other services, said there was a need for blood donations.
As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases grows, the number of people eligible to give blood decreases, said Greta Gustafson, a spokeswoman for the organization.
More than 125 Red Cross blood drives nationwide have been canceled as of March 10 over coronavirus concerns, and that number is expected to increase, she said.
Lots of organizations, such as food banks and social services groups, offer direct help for people in need and may be one of the first places people turn if they are hurt economically by the virus. Organizations offer help without regard to people’s religious affiliations.
“One of the things we’re doing is trying to, as much as possible, is maintain the services we do ordinarily,” Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities of New York said.
Kristina Reintamm, a spokeswoman for Brooklyn Community Services, a nonprofit serving low-income residents, said in addition to donating, people could offer a simple “word of encouragement” to front-line social workers who do not have the option of working from home.
The Hebrew Free Loan Society typically provides interest-free loans of up to $7,500 to low-income people who have two guarantors and reside in New York City, Long Island or Westchester. This week, in response to the virus, the organization modified its application process: Interest-free loans of up to $5,000 are now available to people in those areas with only one guarantor needed.
Rabbi David Rosenn, executive director of the organization, said donations made to the organization are used as capital to make a loan. Once the loan is repaid, the capital is given out as a new loan.
Another nonprofit organization, RIP Medical Debt, based in Rye, N.Y., buys medical debt at a discount and then forgives the loans. During a crisis like the coronavirus, people “might work up until their condition becomes critical and they need to go to an E.R.,” said Daniel Lempert, a spokesman for the group.