A pandemic's generous responders

Charitable giving has spiked as fast as the virus, filling in the gaps of government response to the crisis.

Food donations are handed are out at the Emergency Feeding Program of Seattle and King County in Renton, Washington State.

In a pandemic, everyone is a responder, even if he or she is self-isolating. Yet for many people during the coronavirus outbreak, the response has been outward. According to the research group Candid, global giving to combat the outbreak and deal with the economic fallout has reached $1.3 billion in a matter of weeks. That’s far higher than for recent disasters such as the Australian bushfires or the 2014 Ebola outbreak.

The current tally of private charity may be low compared with what governments are spending. But it comes with a number of differences that will probably make a difference. For one, it shows the spirit of generosity remains high despite the gloom of contagion and predictions of long lockdowns. And it speaks to a confidence that the virus and its effects can be licked by the creativity and nimbleness of charities and foundations.

Givers themselves have had to be nimble during this unusual crisis. Gone are the public fundraising galas, walkathons, and people soliciting on the street or door to door. Volunteers are few. Instead, donors have had to go online, tapping sites like Venmo, GoFundMe, and Kickstarter. Twitter threads often elicit instant charity.

Giving is often targeted to specific people in need, with donors making sure their money has the intended impact. One example is a Facebook group in North Dakota called Neighbors Helping Neighbors. Within days of its launch it had more than 1,400 members donating money and goods to at-risk people in the community.

So far, the bulk of giving is from big donors, such as South Korea tech companies or the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. The World Health Organization along with a few partners set up a COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.

In U.S. cities where the virus first showed up, local foundations have sped up grant giving, often to meet the needs of low-income people. In Pittsburgh, the United Way has surveyed local charities to pinpoint specific requests for help. Meanwhile, food banks in many cities are setting up drive-through distribution points for people in cars to pick up food through a window.

For such groups, hope is more than a thought. It is love in action. Giving fills many of the gaps left in government response to the virus. At a time when people think the world is going to pieces, generosity helps them feel whole again.

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