6 Concrete Ways to Help Our Most Vulnerable During the Pandemic

Now's the time to practice some tikkun olam.

Tikkun olam, the work of healing the world, is a foundational tenet of Judaism. Examples of how to practice this are sprinkled throughout our tradition, from the command to leave the corners of your field unharvested for those in need to our guidelines around mourning and the ritual of shiva. Supporting others is the only way forward, especially in times of crisis.

As coronavirus spreads and evolves, many of us are taking precautions to stay safe, including stocking up on food and soap and working from home if possible. But preparing only for your own household misses the point: We need to take aggressive measures to protect the most vulnerable, and we must include those people in our planning and response.

Here are a few simple ways to practice tikkun olam, tailored to today’s crazy world. Try one today and one tomorrow. Helping others and remembering our shared world does wonders for the sense of anxiety and helplessness that so many of us are facing.

1. Donate to local food banks and pantries. Many people do not have the budget or space to store a month’s worth of groceries or cannot leave the house to run these errands. Google your zip code and food pantry to find specific recommendations or support Food Bank 4 NYC and God’s Love We Deliver (aptly named) in New York, and No Kid Hungry, Meals on Wheels, and Feeding America Remember that not all nonprofits have Instagram donate buttons or websites, so try to spread your giving around and don’t be afraid to get on the phone.

As more and more school closures are announced, check in locally to help students in need (this includes college students). Many of them depend on school systems to get a hot breakfast and lunch.

2. Tip and take care of people who work in the service industry and gig economy. If you have regular appointments that you are canceling, such as personal training, haircuts, childcare, or house cleaning, pay the person for their services if you can (hopefully it’s already budgeted for). When you can resume these sessions, tip generously. Delivery is a tempting option right now. If you’re taking advantage, tip well in cash and minimize contact with your delivery person (add a note in the instructions or mention it on the phone). You can also support queer gig workers directly via this thread.

3. Consider the most vulnerable. Those who are incarcerated or in detention centers are struggling, often living in dangerous conditions even when the rest of us are living business as usual. Organizations like Women in Prison Association and Immigrant Families Together are working with these groups at all times and are adjusting their services for the current state of affairs, which impacts court dates and much more.

4. Check in with your people. Visiting the elderly is a mitzvah, as is visiting the sick. Since doing that in person is not the safest right now, take advantage of FaceTime! Schedule phone calls with parents, grandparents, and chosen family into your day for some social interaction and structure. It will lift everyone’s spirits. If you have elderly or immunocompromised neighbors, ask them if they need anything before you run an errand or place a delivery order. Leave the items by their door with a note. Even if your friends are low risk, helping them out is worthwhile.

Another way to protect our community is to stop the spread of misinformation. Remind your relatives to look for evidence-based reporting from reputable sources and share information with them if needed.

5. Support small businesses. Small businesses operate with razor thin margins — one bad stretch can cause them to close and this is extreme. Many temporary closures will become permanent without major action.

To help restaurants, workout studios, or anywhere else you’d hate to lose, purchase a gift card, which can usually be done online. Spend it when things are better and you’ll support them right now, as they struggle to pay employees and make rent. If you’re still going to restaurants, go to Chinatown, where restaurants are particularly impacted by racism. If you have a reservation and decide to stay in, make sure to cancel it properly. No shows hurt the bottom line, as restaurants purchase food and schedule staff based on the expected volume of sales.

If you’re buying groceries, skip the line at Trader Joe’s and visit a local market or an Asian market. The smaller stores are often better stocked and you can check in with the staff and see how they’re doing and when they expect deliveries. Similarly, order delivery directly from a restaurant (it takes time to get set up on a service like Caviar and they take a large cut). It’s a quick phone call and will make a big difference. Tip your delivery person, in cash.

6. Practice social distancing. This helps protect you, but the broader reason for it is to protect the larger community. Our healthcare system is already overburdened and the fewer people get infected, the better. There are ways to avoid going stir crazy (FaceTime, good books, walks on not crowded streets) and it’s worth it in the long run. We have a lot of healing ahead of us.

Image by Charles Harker/Getty Images

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