Joseph Gitler
Joseph Gitler
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Charities will get us through Corona — here’s how

Nonprofits should now be radically revising plans and brainstorming creative solutions -- and anyone who can should be volunteering

Is your workplace closed? Travel plans canceled? Avoiding crowded places like your gym and looking for substitute activities? More and more of us will find ourselves answering yes to these questions over the coming days, and if you do, I want to talk to you. I want to send you house-to-house, visiting the elderly and making food deliveries to those who are quarantined.

As I write this column, tens of thousands of Israelis are already quarantined, and the government has just made new rules that will require many more to stay home. Let’s fast-forward a few weeks (or even days), when this virus may well have spread, and hundreds of thousands of people are in self-isolation. 

Some are there because they have tested positive. Others because of government mandated quarantine, or because they are exercising “distancing” to minimize contact with people who may be carrying COVID-19. It is realistic to assume that many of Israel’s elderly will fit into this last category. 

My organization, Leket Israel, works with partners across the country to get food to tens of thousands of needy people daily. How will we do this if our partners are shut down or many of the homes are off-limits to most of our volunteers? And if we decide to leave food outside doors, how will elderly recipients cope with the loneliness of self-isolation?

My appeal to those with time to volunteer is just one example of the kind of planning ahead that is urgently needed in the non-profit sector right now. It may pan out, or it may not, but it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that non-profit execs look forward and adopt creative thought processes. 

Any charity that isn’t coming up with long lists of ideas for how to cope through coronavirus — and how to help others to cope — isn’t doing its job. Any charity that isn’t gathering its staff to develop such ideas isn’t stepping up to the plate. 

It is easy to work out the challenges that Leket will face. As tourists vanish, as events are  scaled down, and as corporate employees are told to work from home, there is less food being cooked and fewer leftovers to collect. Volunteer groups who pick and pack produce for Leket are canceling in the short and long term, and we may need to hire temporary staff.

Other charities, large and small, need to realize now that they will also be impacted, even if it is harder to see exactly how than in the case of Leket. Because we’ll soon see that this crisis threatens to affect all of us. Whether we are nonprofits that work with schoolchildren, disabilities, education, the environment, or any other area, coronavirus is likely to simultaneously increase need and make it harder to fulfill needs. 

We’ll get through it by joining forces and putting aside the petty differences that plague parts of Israel’s nonprofit world. If people become more tied to their homes, every nonprofit that normally provides services at centers and needs to go house-to-house will be stretched. But if NGOs that would be visiting the same houses join forces, we succeed. Leket already has an arrangement with United Hatzalah that when its medics pay a house call and find elderly people who need food, they tell us. 

I was heartened yesterday to receive a call from Michele Kaplan-Green, CEO of Kids Kicking Cancer Israel who shared with me how The Interactive Therapeutic Martial Arts sessions  that are normally given in person will now be available as interactive online classes for children with cancer and other chronic illnesses via WhatsApp and Zoom. To address the current situation, the classes are also open to children who are dealing with pain, fear and anxiety. 

We’ll get through this by making new partnerships between nonprofits and businesses. I don’t know what the next big idea will be, but I’m keen to see. Driving instructors who get their students to make two or three grocery drops to quarantined families during a lesson? Pizza delivery drivers who agree to work with a medical charity to deliver prescriptions between margaritas? 

We’ll get through this by constantly and endlessly planning and adapting. Not planning because we’re pessimists and believe Armageddon is upon us. But planning because we prepare for the worst, while hoping for the best. The Israeli attitude of “yihye b’seder,” it will be okay, is a great slogan, but can’t be our anthem on this occasion.

About the Author
Joseph Gitler is the founder and chairman of Leket Israel -- The National Food Bank, the leading food rescue non-profit organization that rescues fresh, perishable food, working with 195 non-profits throughout the country to distribute nutritious food to over 175,000 Israelis weekly.
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