The coronavirus crisis has upended the lives of millions, with no clear end in sight.
Last week alone, new claims for unemployment benefits climbed to 281,000, the most since 2017. Economists say it's only the beginning.
As bars, restaurants and shops across the nation shut down to help slow the spread of the virus, swaths of workers are being sent home. For many, that means uncertainty as to when they'll see a paycheck again.
For those who want to help, it can be hard to know where to start.
Stacy Palmer, editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, has some advice.
"It's very confusing right now, but people should give as generously as they can and not worry too much about what the right thing to do is," she says. "All giving is very necessary."
"There are lots of informal campaigns sprouting up," says Palmer. "You can give money to a restaurant worker who might be laid off from work or do those kinds of things. But you can also give to the same charities that you give to all the time, the ones that you count on for services."
Palmer says it's helpful to consider both approaches.
"Give, you know, a small gift to somebody who's in need, and give to the organizations in your community that really make a difference, groups like - that serve the homeless."
At the same time, she says not to forget about groups that you might not think about in the middle of crises — like arts and educational organizations.
"Think local," she says. "One of the things I think that's smart is if we all take care of each other in our own communities."
In Washington, D.C., for example, service industry employees have set up a "virtual tip jar," a spreadsheet that lets people send money over PayPal or Venmo to support servers, bartenders and baristas.
With informal campaigns popping up everywhere from Facebook and GoFundMe to spreadsheets listing Venmo accounts, Palmer warns that it's not uncommon for scams to crop up.
"Many people have been trying to check out the people who are seeking help, you know, online one on one and also deciding that, you know, if I have $10 or $15 to spare, I'm just going to give it away and hope that it really does good. So sometimes we have to look out for the best instinct," she says. "But definitely, any pressure tactics, anything that looks fishy, don't give that way. Your money can be put to better use."
To help donors make informed decisions, there are watchdog groups like CharityWatch that evaluate the trustworthiness and efficiency of philanthropic organizations. The Federal Trade Commission has also released a tip sheet on how to avoid scams.
If something does look fishy, Palmer says to try an organization like United Way Worldwide. The nonprofit partners with reputable local foundations across the globe to meet the specific needs of communities, and in response to the coronavirus pandemic, it has launched an emergency relief fund.
Another option is to look for groups helping children who used to get free school lunches, but who may now be facing food insecurity due to closures. No Kid Hungry and Feeding America are good places to start to support efforts that meet these needs, Palmer says.
NPR's Noah Caldwell and Jolie Myers produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Emma Bowman adapted it for the Web.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Many people's lives have been turned upside down by the coronavirus crisis, and many others want to help. But what is the best way to give in this uncertain time? To help with that question, I'm joined now by Stacy Palmer. She is editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy.
Stacy Palmer, welcome.
STACY PALMER: Thank you for having me.
KELLY: So what would you tell someone who wants to help, wants to give money to help people, but has no idea where to start?
PALMER: It's very confusing right now, but people should give as generously as they can and not worry too much about what the right thing to do is because all giving is very necessary. There are lots of informal campaigns sprouting up. You can give money to a restaurant worker who might be laid off from work or do those kinds of things. But you can also give to the same charities that you give to all the time, the ones that you count on for services.
So a lot of people are encouraging folks to think about both things. Give, you know, a small gift to somebody who's in need, and give to the organizations in your community that really make a difference, groups like - that serve the homeless. All those kinds of organizations are doing amazing kinds of work, but we might not think about the fact that arts organizations are struggling at this time, educational groups. So there are lots of organizations in need.
KELLY: OK. So let's tick through what to do if you have an idea where you want to direct your money. You mentioned restaurant workers, for example. If I want to target my donations to people who've been laid off as a cook or a dishwasher or a waiter, where do I go? What do I do?
PALMER: You can probably look online and find some local efforts that are underway. And one of the things I think that's smart is if we all take care of each other in our own communities. That will make some sense.
KELLY: So think local. OK.
PALMER: So think local. Look at your United Way community foundations. Those organizations are rounding up information, and they're checking out to make sure that things are reputable. So that's always a good place to go just to see what's going on. There are lots of face groups, obviously, and Twitter and those kinds of things. So you can pay attention to those as well.
KELLY: To the point about making sure that where I'm giving is reputable - I mean, I've been looking around. You can find all kinds of GoFundMe pages, Facebook pages, as you mentioned, spreadsheets, listing Venmo accounts from people who say they've been laid off. But how do I know it's not a scam?
PALMER: That is the big question. And unfortunately in catastrophes like this, we often see a lot of scams crop up. So if you're really not sure if something looks a little fishy, just don't give that way. Give to a traditional organization that will help.
Many people have been trying to check out the people who are seeking help, you know, online one on one and also deciding that, you know, if I have 10- or $15 to spare, I'm just going to give it away and hope that it really does good. So sometimes we have to look out for the best instinct. But definitely, any pressure tactics, anything that looks fishy - don't give that way. Your money can be put to better use.
KELLY: And to throw a couple of other options at you, we're also hearing about kids at home who were used to getting free school lunches. They're not getting them now. We're obviously trying to help elderly people who are so isolated and at risk right now. Advice on if I want to give my money and make sure it gets to those people and gets there fast.
PALMER: Yeah. So there is an organization called No Kid Hungry that has an effort to make sure that no kid does go hungry. That is a collection of information. And Feeding America is a great place that has all the food banks, those kinds of things. So you can quickly tap into those and find local efforts.
KELLY: All right. Some great advice there for all of us trying to do what we can to help in these very, very unsettled times. That's Stacy Palmer, the editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy.
Stacy Palmer, thank you.
PALMER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.