Coronavirus resources: Ways Minnesotans can help others during pandemic

A woman putting food in a bag in a warehouse.
Bethune Community School kindergarten teacher Greta Callahan helps pack bags of food for children at Sheridan Story on Sunday. Around 15 members of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers volunteered at Sheridan Story, which is a food program aimed at feeding kids when school lunches are not available.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Updated: April 1, 12 p.m.

Gov. Tim Walz has called for donations and volunteers as Minnesota deals with the COVID-19 outbreak.

While it's important to make changes in the way people work and interact, the governor said it's also time to step up to help others in the community. In describing some of the challenges of the crisis, he spoke about hoarding and the effect it has on people who are already struggling to get by.

“If there is no toilet paper in the grocery store, there certainly isn’t any at the food shelf. And some people have no opportunity to go to the grocery store,” he said.

There are 60,000 Minnesota families living on the edge of poverty already, said Walz, and the pandemic could push more of them into poverty.

A man pulls out a metal pan of food from a warmer.
Lead cook Jose Villezcas pulls food he prepared for dinner Sunday at the Catholic Charities Higher Ground Shelter in St. Paul. Catholic Charities serves dinner to an average of 275 people each night.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Groups like the Interfaith Outreach, Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army are taking direct financial donations to help individuals and families get supplies and shelter.


Helping to feed others

Sheridan Story is a food program aimed at feeding kids when school lunches are not available. The organization has 30,000 bags of food ready to give to needy kids this week in 31 different school districts. They want donations and volunteers to double that by the end of the month.

Rob Williams said the organization is taking precautions to keep people safe.

“We’ve limited the groups to about 30 people at a time and we’re spreading people out pretty far, and we have different disinfectant operations in place to make sure that its a safe place to volunteer, and to do some good and get some food out to these kids,” said Williams.

You can find information on donations and volunteering and sheridanstory.org.

A close-up of hands putting food in a bag.
Bethune Community School kindergarten teacher Greta Callahan helps pack bags of food for children at Sheridan Story on Sunday.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Maplewood-based Second Harvest Heartland is the second largest food bank in the country, and right now they’re trying to put together 100,000 emergency food boxes. They have eight trucks of food coming into Maplewood on Wednesday to box up and get out those boxes to people who need it.

“The folks that we help, along with the food shelves and meal programs across the state are folks that don’t have extra money to stock up,” said Second Harvest CEO Allison O’Toole. “And so this response is really an effort to shore up those cupboards, so these folks can also stay at home.”

Second Harvest has made the decision to temporarily cancel volunteer shifts but they’re also looking for donations. You can find out more at 2harvest.org.

Neighbors Inc. in northern Dakota County purchases food from Second Harvest and is providing people with complete food shelf services in a pre-pack and pick up system. They are currently accepting monetary donations.

The Open Door is another food pantry serving vulnerable communities in Dakota County. They are in need of volunteers as well as donations. Read more about their needs and response to the pandemic.

Another food shelf in need of support is PRISM, based in Golden Valley. They are providing emergency food boxes to people who need them — and they’ve been seeing an increase requests. “By supporting your local food shelf, like PRISM, you can directly help make sure families in your community have the food and resources they need,” wrote executive director Michelle Ness.

For those in Minneapolis who need assistance with daily meals, House of Charity offers public meals throughout the day. The organization also offers support services related to housing and mental health. You can find opportunities to help with food, finances and volunteer support here.

Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis needs volunteers to help in its homeless shelters because meal volunteers, who are often elderly, have been canceling shifts. You can read the organization’s FAQ here.

Metro Meals on Wheels is looking for on-call volunteers in the event of a volunteer shortage. The nonprofit is accepting new customers and people can enroll in the service here. Meals are available on a short-term and long-term basis, Kenzie Bledsoe, an event specialist for Meals on Wheels wrote in via MPR News’ related submission form. Donations are also being accepted.

St. Stephen's Human Services in Minneapolis is in need of frozen meal donations to help feed guests at its emergency shelters. Meals must be able to serve 50, which generally takes the form of eight 9-inch by 13-inch pans — side dishes are encouraged but not required, wrote volunteer and giving coordinator Amanda Hancer. St. Stephen’s is also accepting donations and you can find a full list of what they need here. Those hoping to donate should contact Hancer to schedule a drop-off (AHancer@ststephensmpls.org or 612-481-9501.)

Open Arms of Minnesota is currently providing medically tailored and shelf stable foods to people living with life threatening illnesses who often also have compromised immune systems. They are in need of donations and are adding new volunteer shifts.

Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota is looking for volunteers to help with meal packaging and delivery for the elderly in Greater Minnesota. The statewide organization is also seeking volunteer caregivers for telephone support and visits to families who are caring for their family members and need a break(800-488-4146). Lutheran Social Service is also in need of groceries and hygiene items for homeless youth in the Twin Cities (651-470-8801). It also accepts financial donations via its website.

Based in Minneapolis, The Aliveness Project is a meal program, food shelf and community center for low-income and homeless people living with HIV. They are accepting volunteers to help bag groceries and are accepting donations — learn more about how they are responding to the COVID-19 outbreak on its site here.

The Sheridan Story has teamed up with the Minnesota Twins to help gather and then match donations up to $125,000 for their service which provides meals for children in need.

For small town grocery stores, the University of Minnesota Extension Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships (RSDP) have developed two new resources, says Caryn Mohr, Assistant Statewide Director at RSDP.

“One is a guide for developing 14-day meal kits that can be deployed from rural grocery stores to community members who need to isolate themselves in the face of COVID-19. The other is a tip sheet that provides basic instructions for small-town grocery stores to include a curbside pickup and delivery model as communities respond to COVID-19,” Mohr wrote in via our submission form.

You can find a list of restaurants that are providing free lunches to kids on KSTP’s website here.

The Minnesota Department of Health recently distributed a guide to food safety and food donation.


Helping those in need of housing, health services and other needs

Memorial Blood Centers has an urgent need for more people to donate blood and platelets. They are asking that potential donors self-screen before making an appointment. Check the guidelines or call their helpline if you are unsure if you should donate.

The American Red Cross has also reported a large shortage of donations due to a large number of blood drive cancellations. Find their guidelines and make an appointment to donate here.

A basic needs organization based in Bloomington, VEAP’s programs provide access to healthy foods, social services, housing stability and supportive services. VEAP is continuing to offer their full services to support the community — you can find help here or donate here.

Project for Pride in Living (PPL), provides affordable housing and career training for those in need. “With widespread job loss and wage cuts, we know that the already critical housing crisis will only worsen when people cannot pay rent,” wrote communication manager Laura Dunford. PPL has set-up an emergency Resilience Fund the public can donate to in order to support residents and the community being impacted by COVID-19.

For those seeking help, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Minnesota is working to continue operations online — providing online resources for people experiencing isolation, anxiety, and other mental health related issues.

Safety resources for people living with violence and abuse in the home is another important service that will need volunteers and donations.

Violence Free Minnesota is the state coalition to end relationship abuse. They have around 90 member programs throughout the state with nearly 30 of those programs taking the form of domestic violence shelters, all of which are remaining open and staffed, wrote in Joe Shannon, data and communications program manager for Violence Free Minnesota.

“Shelters are seeing a need in basic necessities, such as toilet paper and food. Anyone who has large supplies of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, etc., we ask to please donate to your local shelter,” Shannon said.

Advocates at Rivers of Hope — a crisis hotline that helps provides services to survivors of domestic, family and teen dating violence — are also seeing that need for supplies.

“With the closure of schools and now dine-in restaurants, many families we serve are facing hardships around child care if they are able to return to work as well as financial strain if they are not,” said executive director Teresa McNamee. “People can help with food, personal care items, cleaning supplies and even gift cards for these items. People can also provide financial donations to support our ongoing work in the event that future fundraisers get cancelled. Above all, community members can help by being a source of calm in the communities overall.”

Resources for survivors and communities can also be found on Futures Without Violences website.

For those struggling to pay rent during this time, there are short term emergency assistance programs throughout the state. Check your county’s website for more information and to apply for assistance.

Fraser is a Minnesota nonprofit that provides education, housing, health care and employment services for individuals and families with special needs. They’ve created an emergency response fund to support their housing programs, day care center and to expand their telehealth services for families navigating special needs, mental health, and autism spectrum disorder, wrote in community engagement specialist Emma Craig. You can donate via their website.

Greater Twin Cities United Way is providing immediate support to those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. One important program is their 211 resource hotline, which connects people and families to critical resources such as food support, housing, child care, financial assistance and more, wrote senior manager Liz Skree. “If you or someone you know is in need, dial 211 or text the letters MNCOVID to 898-211.”

United Way is also raising funds via the Greater Twin Cities COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund. “United Way engaged their 95 nonprofit community partners to identify the community’s most pressing needs during COVID-19, and 100 percent of donations to the fund go directly into community to provide immediate support to those affected,” Skree wrote.

In Duluth, CHUM helps provide food, shelter and other human services to populations in need. They are currently seeking donations of food, storage space as well as shelter for those experiencing homelessness who are sick, but do not require hospitalization.

YWCA Minneapolis’ early learning center at Abbott Northwestern Hospital is still open in order to provide child care for health care workers, emergency personnel and those in supply chain positions deemed essential. Many of their programs and planned meetings are being moved to a virtual space so they can continue helping those involved. They are asking folks to donate to their emergency fund as they continue to react to the pandemic.

Pinky Swear Foundation is providing financial and emotional support to families with a child battling cancer — who have immunosuppressed systems are considered high-risk for severe illness if they get COVID-19. Pinky Swear covers expenses from mortgage and rent payments to utility bills and grocery gift cards to ensure these kids and families remain healthy and safe, wrote director of marketing Josh Le. They are accepting donations on their website.

Minnesota Cloth Diaper Bank is helping those who can’t find or afford disposable diapers during the outbreak. They accept donations and have volunteer opportunities.


Helping in your neighborhood

Offers to help people who are quarantined with grocery shopping or picking up prescriptions are popping up on neighborhood Facebook groups and Nextdoor.

The Animal Humane Society says it is closing to the public and ending animal adoptions at least through May 2. Many animals were adopted before shelters closed but many more are expected as strays and other animals that have to be surrendered due to an emergency will still be accepted. You can donate to the Humane Society here.

A volunteer-powered effort, the Twin Ports Mask Brigade is collecting unused masks and other personal protective equipment to distribute to local health care workers. “We are looking for donations of dust masks, N95 masks, home-made cloth masks and other PPE. We have volunteers 3D-printing face shields for health care workers as well,” wrote in Nicole Charles of the Brigade. They also have a form on their website where health care providers can request donated masks.

In response to the temporary closure of gyms, one audience member suggested people maintain their gym memberships as a way to support local businesses. “I am affiliated with three gyms — as an employee — and folks have been trying to keep the money flowing, despite gyms being closed,” wrote Wayne Glass.

Another audience suggestion in the wake of bar and restaurant closures: “Kate O'Reilly asked her friends in the service industry to post their Venmo QR codes so others could send the equivalent of a tip. A small but meaningful way to help folks that are losing wages or jobs because of COVID-19,” wrote in Laurence Reszetar.

Diana Neidecker was also hoping to encourage a unique way to give on a local level: “I took out the books of my Little Free Library yesterday in the Hamline-Midway neighborhood, added some food, asked neighbors to do the same, and we have already had a number of donations, and will actually be adding items to other Little Free Libraries in the neighborhood,” Neidecker wrote.

Looking for a break yourself? Happy Human Fitness, a Minneapolis-based personal training company, is offering a free Zoom session each morning at 8:30 a.m. that includes 20 minutes of movement, a five minutes of meditation and an ending segment with suggestions on how to make a difference in the community now, wrote Liz Rolfsmeier. “It’s designed for all ages, with modifications included for various ability levels. They record each session and share on YouTube for later viewing.”

Another way to search for volunteer opportunities is through the HandsOn Twin Cities database. There is a section on its website with opportunities specific to the needs created by the outbreak. The site also has an option for posting new volunteer opportunities as well as an opportunity for nonprofits to create their own profiles in the database.


Helping nonprofits help others

Meanwhile, the Otto Bremer Trust, one of Minnesota’s largest charitable organizations, announced Monday it was creating a $50 million emergency fund to provide financial support to Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and Montana nonprofits and other community organizations. The new fund will provide emergency funding, loans, lines of credit, and other financial resources to organizations impacted by and responding to the COVID-19 outbreak, it said in a press release.

“This is a stressful and demanding time for many organizations across the region as they work to support the most vulnerable people in our communities,” said Daniel Reardon, Co-CEO and Trustee, OBT. “We hope that by making funds available for immediate and longer-term needs, we can help cushion the financial impacts of the coronavirus outbreak so that these organizations can focus on providing critical services.”


Are there resources we are missing? Tell us about it here.

This is a developing list of resources. MPR News will continue to update.

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