As Texans hunker down, learn to keep our 6 feet of “social distance,” and gradually get used to life in quarantine to reduce the spread of COVID-19, many of our neighbors, friends, and loved ones are already struggling.
Hundreds of Texas schools have closed, and many children who depend on free and reduced lunches are missing meals. Owners of small businesses have suddenly lost customers. Elderly people and those with chronic health conditions may feel isolated or be unable to go out to get food or medicine.
We Texans are resilient folk, and we’re always ready to lend a hand (though not literally a handshake, in these times). Here’s a list of ways to help.
1. Donate to your local food bank.
Money is best, though some places are still seeking volunteers. The Houston Food Bank and the statewide network of 18 others are already scrambling to respond to a huge increase in demand, and many are putting together coronavirus preparedness kits for low-income households. Here’s how to donate in Houston, Austin, San Antonio, East Texas, and North Texas. And here’s a longer list of Texas food banks with contact information.
2. Support services that serve seniors or others who may be housebound or reluctant to leave home.
The Texas chapters of Meals on Wheels, which delivers hot meals to seniors and the homebound, are listed here. The organization is taking precautions as the pandemic continues, including preparing frozen meals and dropping them off on the porch, rather than handing them over. However, this means that many of the people Meals on Wheels helps will be missing out on critical social contact. The organization says it is making plans to call and check in on clients.
3. Check in with friends, family, and neighbors.
Many people may be dealing with difficult situations that they won’t share on social media, such as potential exposure to the virus, job insecurity, or chronic health conditions. Personal support is important, and a phone call or text can work wonders. But if you can, offer to have groceries delivered—H-E-B and others are now offering free curbside pickup—or run errands. Gift cards are another good option for those who might be hurting financially.
4. Give blood.
Blood supplies are already dangerously low in South Texas, and blood drives across the nation have been canceled. Make an appointment to donate via your local blood donation center, whether that’s We Are Blood in Central Texas or the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center.
5. Support emergency housing funds and homeless shelters.
Unfortunately, folks who are laid off or can’t work may not have enough emergency money to cover the rent or the mortgage. Evictions have been halted in Travis County and for properties managed by the San Antonio Housing Authority, but not everywhere. Here’s a list of Texas organizations that help.
Homeless shelters are crowded places, which makes it hard to comply with “social distancing” requirements. But shelter residents generally have no better place to go, so shutting down isn’t a good option either. Shelter operators around Texas are doing what they can to create physical space between residents, protect staff, and keep everything sanitary. Many have temporarily stopped accepting volunteers, which means fewer hands to do the work. Shelters are struggling to obtain essential items like hand sanitizer, gloves and masks, and sanitary wipes. Depending on the shelter, they may also need clothing, toilet paper, or monetary donations.
The Observer has contacted a number of Texas shelters and posted information about their needs here. That is just a partial list. Many shelters are posting information on their websites. Please be mindful of any instructions about how a shelter would like donations to be delivered.
6. Support organizations that provide assistance with health care or services for people with compromised immune systems.
Health groups serving high-risk populations like cancer patients and those who are HIV-positive could use extra support right now. Consider a donation to the American Cancer Society in Texas or to AIDS Services of San Antonio, of Austin, of Dallas, or the AIDS Foundation Houston.
You can also help support hospital staff in Austin by donating to this GoFundMe campaign, which will purchase gift cards from local restaurants and send them to the people working on the frontlines of this pandemic.
7. Get a flu shot.
Getting your flu shot can help ease the pressures on the health care system in two ways. First, it’s easy to mix up the flu and coronavirus, so a higher vaccination rate—and thus, fewer cases of the flu—will mean fewer people coming in for testing. Second, fewer people being treated for the flu means more availability for services for coronavirus patients.This has been a terrible flu season, and it’s not over. DSHS offers this flu vaccination finder. You may also want to consult your doctor and consider deferring elective medical treatment.
8. Contribute to your favorite local arts organization or nonprofit.
Museums, theaters, conferences, and festivals are closing or canceling all across Texas, gutting funding for many arts organizations. So consider buying museum memberships or theater subscriptions, as well as donating to nonprofits that rely on this money (and don’t forget the artists who rely on them, too).
9. Order takeout or delivery from your favorite Texas restaurants.
Many small businesses are trying to survive and avoid layoffs despite temporary closures and, at the very least, far fewer customers. The Texas To Go website offers a searchable list. Some restaurants have begun offering curbside pickup, as the Dallas Morning News reported. In Houston, meteorologist (and foodie) Matt Lanza started this thread. There are also campaigns specifically geared toward helping people in the service industry whose hours have been cut or significantly reduced in Austin and Houston. When you order, remember to tip big!
10. Buy books from an independent Texas bookstore.
Many are open or can handle pickups or online orders. Austin’s BookPeople, Dallas’ Interabang Books, and Houston’s Brazos Bookstore are all offering new curbside services. Texas Book Lover has an indie bookstore list. And consider buying gift cards to your other favorite local retail stores, which are hurting too.
And, if you are able, please support the Texas Observer and other news outlets covering the pandemic.
If you have suggested additions, email: [email protected].
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