April 7, 2020 / 3:26 PM / 3 months ago

Your Money: Make a big impact with your COVID-19 charity dollars

NEW YORK (Reuters) - When Rachel Baron wanted to give back to her community affected by COVID-19, her first thought was to help local emergency room doctors. So the 46-year-old advertising copywriter worked with some friends to set up food deliveries from local restaurants in New York’s Westchester County through the Meal Train service.

FILE PHOTO: Members of the New York Army National Guard help pack pantry bags for food distribution with Hope Community Services in an area with multiple cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New Rochelle, New York, U.S., March 18, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Eugene Jhong, a 51-year-old tech investor in the Bay Area, wanted medical workers to have the supplies they needed, so he sent out a grant from his Vanguard charitable account to Flexport.org, a non-profit helping with supply chain issues.

Donor activist Ruth Ann Harnisch, 69, was moved by the tragedy of patients in hospitals separated from their loved ones. She directed her family’s charity, the Harnisch Foundation, to help supply tablets to hospitals so patients could see their loved ones and say goodbye.

No matter what your motivation and your means, giving to charity right now is a personal and emotional decision. Congress prioritized this in the CARES Act - the $2.2 trillion coronavirus response legislation - by instituting a new $300 tax deduction that comes off the top of your income, if you do not itemize your deductions.

Most people are sheltering at home and cannot volunteer in person. Because of contagion, people are wary of accepting food or goods from unknown sources.

So what is the best way to help?

“Unlike a hurricane where you can donate clothes or bake a lasagna, there is no rule book for this. But I will say cash is very important at this point,” said David Rogers, vice president at Ministry Brands, which helps religious organizations develop online platforms.

Many charities are adapting to this unique challenge, like Team Rubicon, which has many former military volunteers. It launched a #neighborshelpingneighbors campaign (teamrubiconusa.org/neighbors) for COVID-19 to respond quickly to local needs.

“These acts can be as simple as picking up prescription medicines or delivering a meal to an elderly friend in need, to calling your co-worker to check in,” said Jake Wood, Rubicon co-founder and chief executive.

While it is early for a global tally, donations are rolling in. GoFundMe.com has also seen a surge in donations since February, raising at least $120 million so far for COVID-19 causes. Vanguard Charitable donors have given out more than $31 million so far, with the average grant just under $14,000.

AVOID SCAMS

In every time of need, scammers try to take advantage, so the best thing to do is look up the charity you are considering on a site like GuideStar (http://guidestar.org), said Howard Silverstone, an accountant and member of the fraud task force of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

If you are giving to individuals through crowdfunding, stick to people you actually know. GoFundMe said it has strict procedures for vetting campaigns, but there are so many other avenues that people are using.

The safest way to give is through your credit card, rather than cash, debit or texting, Silverstone said. Also, never click through to links from emails or social media but go directly to the sites where you want to give and donate through a secure platform.

And know this key fact when giving: The IRS does not call. It also does not email, and it does not show up at your door.

FOLLOW THE MONEY

Giving money may not satisfy all of your drive to help, but you can get some comfort knowing where your dollars are going.

“Right now, it’s not about keeping afloat,” said pastor Scott Wilson of Oaks Church in Red Oak, Texas, who is updating his community through phone calls and the church’s website.

Oaks Church is using the funds it gets to feed more than 400 families in their community, provide protective equipment to local hospitals and fill the needs of anyone who posts a request on its web portal. Volunteers are even helping a local couple make an oxygen helmet that keeps people off ventilators.

Angel Marino says thank you directly to the childcare workers who are making it possible for her to work at a hospital in Detroit and to the Bright Horizons and #FirstRespondersFirst for providing the free service.

“I explain how grateful I am, and they say how grateful they are for me,” said Marino, a certified medical assistant with three children, 10, 6 and 5.

“It’s a lifesaving resource for me,” Marino added. “It’s like a blessing.”

Follow us @ReutersMoney or here Editing by Steve Orlofsky

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