COVID-19 Pandemic: Urgent Needs & Nonprofits to Give to

COVID-19 Pandemic: Urgent Needs & Nonprofits to Give to

COVID-19 is affecting the most basic human needs for health, food, and safe shelter. In the U.S., citizens are also looking for trusted, relevant local information on emerging solutions and resources. This section describes the most urgent needs and nonprofits that are working to fill them.
Many local, state, and international foundations have opened COVID-19 response funds to fill critical needs. The Council on Foundations has a Community Foundation Locator that can help you find regional response funds, while the World Health Organization COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund supports health care practices and information on COVID-19 around the world.


COVID-19 represents an unprecedented public health threat. It is currently the leading cause of death in the United States, surpassing heart disease and cancer. One major reason for the high death rates is the sudden surge of severe cases that have strained healthcare systems around the world.

You can help by:

Supporting those on the front lines (health care providers; first responders; and essential workers in retail, pharmacy, farms, transit, deliveries, warehouses, and manufacturing)

Everyone’s health depends on the ability of these people to do their jobs well and safely. Here’s how you can support them.

  • Practice social distancing, handwashing, and wearing cloth masks when in public, to reduce their risk of infection.
  • Support nonprofits like WaterAid, Plan International, and CARE International, which deploy handwashing and hygiene expertise around the world.
  • Provide PPE (personal protective equipment such as N95 respirators, isolation gowns, eye protection, and face shields). A select few of you may have access to global supply chains, direct donation networks, or funds to provide at scale, like the recent donation of 2.6 million masks, 170,000 goggles, and 2,000 ventilators to New York — the U.S. epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. Others can support nonprofits like International Medical Corps, which is working closely with Federally Qualified Health Centers in the U.S., leveraging its global supply chain expertise.
Strengthening the medical response system

In addition to PPE, policymakers need better information and hospitals need more trained personnel. The following nonprofits are all working to provide “surge capacity” in the hardest-hit regions around the world, including North America and Europe: Partners in HealthBuild Health InternationalInternational Medical CorpsLast Mile Health, and Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders. Partners in Health is now also working with the state of Massachusetts to deploy nearly 1,000 contact tracers to help track and contain the virus in that state.

Expanding resources to address behavioral health (mental health and substance use disorders)

High-quality information and services help those who were already vulnerable, as well as those made newly vulnerable due to the isolation and distress caused by social distancing, sudden sickness and death of loved ones, financial insecurity, and the pressure of working on the frontlines to address COVID-19. Given the restrictions caused by social distancing, you can help by funding the following.

Read our full guidance on addressing mental health & addiction during the COVID-19 pandemic >>


COVID-19 is a health crisis that is leading to a related food crisis. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, more than 820 million people across the globe are already suffering from hunger, and now mainstream food distribution systems have been disrupted due to social distancing restrictions in warehouses and retail establishments.  Panic buying has induced shortages on store shelves and interruptions along the supply chain. In the United States, the traditional emergency food distribution system has also been disrupted since it relies on older volunteers (those most at risk) and a network of distribution sites (community food pantries, churches, and soup kitchens), many of which have been shut down due to the need for social distancing. Food is one of the first places donors give, whether small donors who give $5 to pay for meals for an elder or child, or large, like Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, who pledged $1 billion of his fortune to the crisis, with food as his first cause.

You can help by:

Funding nonprofits with specific expertise in broad-based, emergency food distribution

FeedingAmerica is helping its network of 200 U.S. food bank members meet local needs, including building inventories of pantries, fulfilling emergency food boxes, and shifting operations to more mobile and drive-through distributions to support social distancing. The Global FoodBanking Network operates food banks in 40 countries, and is supporting COVID-19 affected need outside the U.S.

Providing food to homebound seniors and children reliant on school meals

Meals on Wheels, which has been delivering meals and social contact to seniors since 1954, is adjusting to social distancing with additional transportation, personnel, and tech-based efforts to check on isolated seniors and provide them with reliable information. No Kid Hungry is making emergency grants to schools and community groups across 40 states and the District of Columbia, for activities like distributing meals via school bus stops in rural communities in Arizona, Arkansas, and Iowa. In the Oakland Unified School District in California and other urban districts, they are hiring drivers to stock community food distribution centers where families can pick up free meals for children curbside.

Safe Shelter

Individuals who were already disadvantaged — the homeless population, refugees, incarcerated people — will find their living situations increasingly perilous. And, as the economic crisis reverberates, individuals and families experiencing job loss may find themselves at risk of eviction or foreclosure, or living within an unsafe situation. While the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) provisions will help in the U.S., the need will outstrip the aid.

You can help by:

Supporting nonprofits with a track record of working with populations already homeless, at risk, or at immediate risk of homelessness.

Because 50% of unsheltered people suffer from a combination of physical, mental health, and substance use conditions, unsheltered populations are among the most vulnerable populations in need.  Researchers have estimated that the coronavirus pandemic is likely to kill more than 3,400 people experiencing homelessness across the United States, with an estimated immediate need for 400,000 additional emergency accommodation beds to manage the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the homeless population. New collaborations between local governments and organizations with empty beds — hotels and dorms — fill some of the need.

Providing cash transfers and other financial support to those made newly vulnerable

Unemployment and stimulus checks may not come quickly enough, reach all individuals, and fill all needs. GiveDirectly, which distributes cash directly to impoverished households, is developing a COVID-19 cash response program where donors can give cash directly to Americans affected by the disease and the economic downturn. lists other organizations that provide emergency grants for specific professions, regions, unions, and other affinities. For example, Greater New Orleans Foundation (GNOF) launched the Louisiana Service and Hospitality Family Assistance Program, an initiative to support negatively impacted Louisiana service and hospitality workers in a decimated tourist economy.

Ensure access to social benefit programs for eligible households

Benefits Data Trust (BDT), which connects people to benefits and services in six states, has seen an increase in calls from individuals — including a 79% increase in calls in the last week of March, many from first-time callers. They are also helping state and local governments understand and adapt to new federal laws and supporting community-based organizations facing increased demand and strain. In South Carolina, SC Thrive provides a contact center that residents can call to apply for benefits over the phone. These benefits range from Medicaid and SNAP applications, to tax filings and voter registration.

Reliable Local Information

We’re in the midst of what WHO terms an “infodemic” — there is endless information about coronavirus, but much of it is unreliable or contradictory. Critical information needs include medical information, scientific facts, and real-time data, as well as local information about regulations and resources. Given the decentralized response to COVID-19 in the United States and widespread misinformation on social media, local, reliable news sources are especially critical to reach both urban and rural communities.

Such news and information can reinforce evidence-based practices like social distancing, give access to local data to help disease detectives track the epidemic, help people understand the specific ways COVID-19 is affecting their community, and highlight local ways to find and provide help. Local news is not only more relevant, it is more trusted: In a 2018 Poynter Institute survey, 76% of Americans indicated they have a “great deal” or a “fair amount” of trust in their local television news and 73% do so for local newspapers. By comparison, in a recent Reuters Institute survey conducted in Argentina, Germany, South Korea, Spain, the UK, and the U.S., about a third of respondents say they have seen a lot or a great deal of false or misleading information on social media about COVID-19. (Read more about how to support local media in our We the People guidance.)

Reliable, timely information that people trust is critical to helping communities navigate crises like the one brought on by COVID-19.

You can help by:

Supporting high-quality, local journalism through nonprofits such as: