Compassion Reporting on poverty fighting and criminal justice

Where charity and COVID-19 abide

Compassion | Giving holds steady, but nonprofit groups fear the worst is yet to come
by Charissa Koh
Posted 5/06/20, 05:07 pm

At the Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles, the demand for free meals has increased by 40 to 50 percent since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. “We had to get creative,” said mission CEO Andy Bales.

He began asking local restaurants for help. One agreed to provide pizzas three to four times a week. Other contributions came from sub and hamburger chains, a bakery, and a barbecue restaurant. “We are adapting to this new world we live in,” Bales said.

With Americans losing jobs and sources of food and housing drying up, the pandemic has increased the demand for charities like Union Rescue Mission. So far, donors have given plenty in response to the outbreak, but the needs continue to multiply as scammers work to undermine charitable giving.

Most nonprofit organizations are “forecasting a 30 to 40 percent decrease in revenue between the months of March and June,” said Kevin Scally, chief relationship officer at Charity Navigator. “I imagine this will continue on for some time and that there will be a ripple effect with the economic shutdown.”

On April 2, the Center for Effective Philanthropy published a letter asking donors to increase giving to groups fighting the pandemic: “What nonprofits need most right now is more money. Without rapid and meaningful infusions of additional resources, many organizations will have to dramatically pare back programs and services or fold their operations entirely—and the results for the economy, vulnerable populations, communities, and progress on crucial issues will be devastating.”

Donors answered the call. According to Candid, an organization that tracks nonprofit groups and philanthropy, donors have provided 2,750 grants totaling $9.5 billion globally for COVID-19 response efforts. The United States leads the pack, with Americans providing 2,260 grants worth $1.8 billion. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Google have given the most so far, and other internet and tech companies are close behind. Most of the giving comes from companies and their foundations, but individuals are also donating generously: Using #ShareMyCheck, people are posting on social media how they allocated all or part of their government stimulus money to others in need.

But the disasters that prompt generosity also prompt fraud. The Federal Trade Commission noted an increase in coronavirus-related scams since the pandemic began, receiving 35,500 reports of fraud since January. Examples include official-looking emails with the World Health Organization logo asking recipients to download a list of coronavirus symptoms and robocalls from “a government agency” asking people to provide personal information to get their stimulus checks. Scammers have created fake charities and asked people to donate by mail or through an online giving portal. The FTC posted advice for avoiding such scams, including researching the charity first and donating by credit card instead of cash.

Though giving has stayed strong so far, the economic downturn likely will drag on for the foreseeable future as the needs of charities increase.

“I do imagine that there is going to be donor fatigue after some time,” Scally said. “There’s going to be only so much folks can give at an individual level.”

But for now, the charities I spoke with are cautiously hopeful. Bay Area Rescue Mission CEO John Anderson said his organization quickly shared new needs with donors: more meals, sanitation supplies, personal protective equipment, and temporary staff. During the past two months, donations have increased. “We are attempting to be wise stewards of what God is providing,” Anderson said. “Some of the expenses are beyond the current budget since no one knew this virus was coming.”

Hope Christian Center is a discipleship program for addicts in New York City. Director Jack Roberts had to cancel the annual fundraising banquet scheduled for the first week of April, but many donors gave by mail when they couldn’t do so in person. But he expects giving to slow as the year progresses and the economic fallout settles.

“Hope has always lived on the edge, but the Lord has sustained us,” Roberts said. “We trust Him with our future.”

Associated Press/Photo by Lynne Sladky (file) Associated Press/Photo by Lynne Sladky (file) Immigrants wait in line for appointments at the Miramar Immigration and Customs facility in Florida.

Detention decisions

A federal judge on Thursday ordered authorities to release hundreds of immigrants from three Florida detention centers to prevent further spread of the coronavirus. U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement must take steps to reduce the number of detainees at the facilities from 1,400 to about 350 within about two weeks. Seven detainees and eight staff members at the Krome Detention Center in Miami have already tested positive for COVID-19, according to court filings.

Government officials also have released detained immigrants in California and Louisiana. U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in Southern California ordered ICE to free any detainees who are 60 or older or at high risk for the disease. In Louisiana, U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Perez-Montes recommended the state release 13 detainees from several facilities.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has suspended immigration court hearings for migrants waiting in Mexico through June 1. The U.S. Department of Justice estimated in late February that about 25,000 people were waiting south of the U.S. border under the “Remain in Mexico” policy. —Rachel Lynn Aldrich

Associated Press/Photo by Val Horvath/The Shreveport Times (file) Associated Press/Photo by Val Horvath/The Shreveport Times (file) Inmates at the Caddo Parish Juvenile Detention Center in Shreveport, La.

Outbreaks and breakouts

The rising number of COVID-19 cases in juvenile detention centers has sparked fear in what are already tense environments. About 40 detainees rioted at one Louisiana facility on April 20. Staff members sustained injuries, and a SWAT team responded with pepper spray. The same month, more than a dozen detainees escaped during two breakouts at another Louisiana facility. State officials said they recaptured most of the escapees.

At least 17 detainees have tested positive for the coronavirus at Louisiana youth juvenile detention centers. The state tried to reshuffle people between the two facilities, turning one into an isolation center, but the move upended regular routines and caused other complications for residents and staff.

Rising tension from the pandemic led to a brawl in a New York youth facility that tried a similar solution. And a juvenile detention center in Portland, Ore., reported a disturbance but said no one was injured. —R.L.A.

Associated Press/Whitney Rutz Associated Press/Whitney Rutz Whitney Rutz (right) and her husband, Paul, in their kitchen

A spoonful of sugar

A woman in Portland, Ore., turned her self-care baking into a way to support her neighbors. Whitney Rutz started selling her big homemade cinnamon rolls to raise money for local food banks. The first roll she auctioned off went for $300. As donations became more regular, she started making one 12-inch roll for every $500, with the highest contributor deciding who got the sweet treat. Many donors have sent their sugary winnings to cheer up local healthcare workers or residents in assisted-living facilities.

As of Tuesday, Rutz had raised more than $35,000 for the Oregon Food Bank—enough for 105,000 meals. —R.L.A.

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Charissa Koh

Charissa is WORLD's compassion reporter and a part of WORLD's investigative unit, the Caleb Team. Charissa resides with her husband, Josh, in Austin, Texas. Follow her on Twitter @CharissaKoh.

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    Posted: Thu, 05/07/2020 04:21 pm

    Releasing people from detention centers helps how?

    How many of those people are would be carriers or have the virus?

    That's like releasing people from prison early because they might get the virus. 

    I hope they checked each and every person before releasing them. 

    The rest of us are in quarantine detention. Who will release us???