As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, even the most stoic among us are feeling unsettled. Everyone has been affected by the virus, from small businesses and big chains to local musicians and the elderly. But amid the chaos, people around the world are pulling together for support with online groups and donations — reminding us the best way to prepare is by helping one another.

As well as soothing anxieties, these grassroots responses to the crisis are strengthening communities and ensuring the most vulnerable are cared for when physically showing up for one another isn’t an option.

You can help those around you by social distancing, but beyond that, here are some more ways to help your community combat COVID-19.

1. Stock up rather than stockpiling.

Panic buying contributes to more panic and causes shortages. It’s a good idea to stock up with enough food and toiletries to last a couple of weeks (or as advised by your local government), but resist the urge to buy more than you need.

Many food shops are remaining open, even during a lockdown — so you should be able to go back and top up your supplies. Secondly, panic buying will lead to more fear: We’re social creatures, so when we see empty shelves and full trolleys, we’re inclined to follow the lead of others because our instincts tell us we’ll suffer if we don’t — despite rational thought telling us otherwise.

2. Run errands for the most vulnerable in your community.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people who are over the age of 60 or have pre-existing medical conditions such as lung disease or diabetes are the most at-risk from the coronavirus. For those who feel able, consider getting in touch with those in your neighborhood who are most in need to see how you can help. Just picking up groceries or prescriptions could, quite literally, be a lifesaver for someone. Even if your neighbors don’t need anything, just letting them know you’re there for them is reassuring, and can help vulnerable people feel less alone.

3. Donate to food banks.

Food banks are placed under additional pressure as COVID-19 continues to spread. Groups are anticipating additional strain from an influx of children who would otherwise rely on healthy meals from school, and workers who are struggling to make ends meet on reduced hours.

When donating to food banks, start with cash before emptying your cupboards. Donating money gives the professionals the flexibility to choose the supplies they need when they need them. If you are in a position to contribute, this directory is a super tool for searching for local food banks in the area. You can also give money to Meals on Wheels, an organization that delivers food to the elderly. It’s currently seeing increased demand due to social distancing: “This is quite a difficult time for us because we are having to buy supplies we don’t normally need to,” Marion Bremner, manager at Meals on Wheels, said in a recent statement.

4. Shop locally online.

Books, magazines, podcasts, and self-care items are essential when you’re sick or confined to your home. Rather than heading straight to the big-name brands, you could have a look online to see if any of your local shops are offering any shipping. Not only will you be keeping a smaller business afloat — in many cases, you’ll also get a highly personalized experience. Some indie booksellers offer matchmaking services (that’s where they match you with the perfect book based on what you’ve enjoyed in the past), while other shops have a great online community you can join on platforms like Instagram and Facebook.

5. Support artists and venues.

Cafes and restaurants aren’t the only ones suffering during this time: Musicians are being forced to cancel gigs. Many rely on ticket sales to get them through the month, as do the venues that book those artists. You can support musicians by buying their music and merch online, or purchasing tickets to online gigs, which have seen a spike in popularity since the outbreak began. As for the venues, most are offering refunds for canceled gigs, but rather than go for that option, let them keep your money until the event’s been rescheduled. That way, the venue or organizer doesn’t have to refund loads of cash at once — which could be catastrophic when it has nothing else coming in and needs to pay the rent.

6. Donate to blood banks.

Thousands of blood drives have been canceled because of the outbreak, and as a result, stocks are running dangerously low — with the American Red Cross and America’s Blood Centers announcing on Tuesday that the US is facing a “severe blood shortage.” The organizations encourage anyone who is eligible to give blood to make an appointment and donate.

“We understand why people may be hesitant to come out for a blood drive but want to reassure the public that blood donation is a safe process, and that we have put additional precautions in place at our blood drives to protect the health of safety of our donors and staff,” Gail McGovern, president and chief executive officer of the American Red Cross, said in a statement.

7. Set up online groups.

Many people are setting up neighborhood-based WhatsApp chats, Reddit boards, and Facebook groups where people can drop in and share helpful tips on everything from caring for the elderly and shopping on a budget to lesson plans for parents whose kids are stuck at home. For those who have a small social circle or no immediate family, online spaces such as these offer an invaluable way to interact with others and build a vital support network. The more people join these groups, the stronger the network.

Nextdoor is an app that allows people to reach out to others in their neighborhood. Its usage has spiked over the past two weeks, and it has now created a function that allows users to mark themselves as “able to help” their neighbors. As well as calming anxieties, these online spaces have become sites of support for entire communities.

8. Stay indoors.

Earlier this week, the White House announced new guidelines urging US citizens to avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people and to avoid non-essential travel, social visits, and shopping trips. Whether or not your country is in full lockdown, consider staying indoors as much as possible — even if you’re not in an at-risk group or feel well. At least one study estimates that approximately 25 percent of transmissions occurred in pre-symptomatic stages — meaning it may be spread by people who aren’t yet showing symptoms. Health authorities believe social distancing can dramatically stem the COVID-19 outbreak, easing the burden on the healthcare system and your community.

9. Buy vouchers.

If you’d like to cheer someone up but you’re not sure how, what about sending them a digital voucher? It’ll bring a smile to their face and help your chosen business during these turbulent times.

Growing numbers of businesses are offering vouchers in the face of the outbreak, which means there’s more choice than ever. It’s a great way to support local shops right now because they don’t need to be redeemed for anything between six months and two years. Buying one also means that businesses will receive a vital cash injection, which will help them stay afloat while everyone’s in lockdown.

10. Stay in touch with friends and family.

Even the most introverted among us crave social interaction from time to time. Speaking to Medical News Today, psychologist Susan Pinker says, “Face-to-face contact releases a whole cascade of neurotransmitters and, like a vaccine, they […] release oxytocin, which increases your level of trust and lowers your stress.” We can’t have face-to-face contact right now, but we can take advantage of virtual tools to recreate that social interaction.

Skype, Zoom, and FaceTime are the next best thing to being with someone in person, while app games of chess and scrabble offer a nice distraction that will help them (and you) feel a bit less lonely when you don’t fancy having a conversation.

You can also send photos, videos, or voice messages just to let someone know you’re thinking of them. Staying in touch with others is one of the best ways to take care of our own well-being during the outbreak — as well as everyone else around us.

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