Updated: Jul 8
For these past few months, and the foreseeable future, people all over the world have been and will continue to struggle in ways that were once hardly fathomable for most of us. While living in confinement is not easy for anyone, at Soul Food we have been thinking a lot about those who are disproportionately affected. We’ve been concerned about the young migrants we work with and the more than 300 unaccompanied minors living on the street in and around Paris, but this also includes people with serious pre-existing conditions; people with disabilities; those who live in abusive homes, where they are now stuck indefinitely with their abusers; homeless people, who can no longer hope to be passed by a friendly stranger who happens to have some extra change; elderly people who are isolated and can no longer receive visits from their families; migrants living in over-crowded, unsanitary refugee camps and cages; people who were already struggling financially and now will inevitably be facing more economic woes as they lose their jobs; and unfortunately the list goes on…
In the past, during extremely devasting times, people have often shown their true colors. This pandemic is no different. There are a great deal of courageous people (grocery store workers, medical workers, delivery people, to name a few) who continue to go to work, often under less than ideal working conditions. There are also amazing organizations and volunteers who are working to help communities in need.
We wanted to take a minute to highlight those people, and most of all, provide ways that anyone can help. We tried to make this list as comprehensive as possible, to include a wide range of options (naturally not everyone can afford to donate but there are things to be done with zero financial cost!) and locations in several countries.
What’s happening is very scary. Virtually everyone around the world is being negatively affected in some way. There is also hope though because virtually everyone can contribute in some way. Here are a few general things we can all do:
In the United States, C19 Help Squad is nation-wide initiative to give help and get help. If you are able to contribute (either financially or by volunteering, even in simple ways like helping someone vulnerable in your community get groceries) please signup.
Nextdoor is an application that is active in several countries. You can look for activities and services that you need and offer them as well. During the COVID-19 pandemic, people are using this app to find out how they can support their neighbors.
Follow @PeopleOfThePandemic (Instagram) for uplifting stories about heroes from around the world. This project tells the stories of everyday people who are doing their part during the pandemic. It’s important to celebrate these individuals. It’s also a simple way to bring some joy to your day.J
Here you can find a website with a downloadable app, full of information on COVID-19, including ways to help. It is currently available in 11 countries, including France, Portugal, Poland, Brazil, and Colombia.
If you have the time and the ability to make masks for yourself, your family, neighbors, or even people in your wider community, that would be incredibly helpful. Research has shown that wearing a mask when out, will significantly make a difference. This video gives more information (English). Here is a short video that gives simple instructions (in Italian but easy to see what he’s using/doing without understanding everything he’s saying) on making a mask from things you can find around your home. For those of you who have more technical and scientific capabilities, this website gives more information on open source initiatives to create the tools we need to get through the pandemic.
A few other simple things most of us can do include:
- If you have a safe home and can stay in, do it
- Wash your hands regularly
- Wear a mask each time you leave your home
- If you live in an apartment building (or other place with neighbors close by) and you are able to go out safely, leave a note offering to help your more vulnerable neighbors (the elderly, immunocompromised, etc.)
- Check in with your loved ones and encourage them to do these things as well
This pandemic is making vulnerable communities even more vulnerable. Children who relied on school lunches to eat at least one hot meal a day, can no longer expect this basic necessity. People who were barely making ends meet before have now been laid off and can no longer afford the essentials. Medical professionals are working around the clock to save lives and do not have time to worry about their next meals. A lot of volunteers and organizations around the world are working to fill these needs. Here are a few that we know and/or admire:
World Central Kitchen is leading the fight against hunger by delivering fresh meals to people in different cities around the United States (100,000 meals a day!), and in other international locations that have been hit hard by the pandemic, like Spain, all while respecting health & safety measures (including giving out meals for 2- 3 days when possible, to ensure that people can stay home the following days). They are working to involve more restaurants in an attempt to also provide support to an industry that is suffering financially, and they map their feeding efforts. Check out the hashtag #ChefsforAmerica or #ChefsforSpain on social media to find out more about their most recent food distributions, mask deliveries to medical workers, etc. There are several ways you can support their efforts in the United States, including by volunteering. In Spain, chefs are joining World Central Kitchen in its efforts to fight hunger. They are working through the Spanish National Food Bank Federation and are accepting both volunteers and donations.
It’s possible to donate to the non-profit that runs all of the Refettorio restaurants around the world (currently with locations in Paris, France; Merida, Mexico; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Milano, Italy; London, England) and support them as they’ve adapted their gastronomic kitchens, that transform surplus ingredients, which would have otherwise been wasted, to feed people in vulnerable positions. The Refettorio Paris was our first partnership. We go there regularly for meals and send young migrants to volunteer with them and gain valuable professional experience. During the confinement, they’ve had to close their premises to guests, but have adapted to coordinate, cook and distribute meals, with the goal of distributing between 2,000- 5,000 meals a day. Your contribution will help the Refettorio restaurants continue these efforts.
For coffee drinkers in France, you can order coffee from Belleville Brûlerie (delivery available all over France, even during confinement). For each KG Petits Soins blend bought, they are committed to donating the equivalent to hospitals around Paris, to help sustain exhausted medical workers.
Also in France, Linkee is an organization working with different restaurants around Paris to carry out food distributions to medical workers and people in need. They distribute more than 1, 200 meals a day! Until April 17th you can donate here to help them purchase a new delivery truck, that will help them continue making these vital distributions.
If you are able to donate (any amount is helpful!), here are a few places that are asking for help around the world:
Hôpital Bichat Claude-Bernard in France is the first hospital in the Paris area to treat patients with COVID-19. Now, like so many hospitals, the medical professionals there are struggling because they do not have enough resources. La Semaine Paris has started a fundraiser that will help them purchase the supplies they need to continue.
In the United States, NYC has been called the epicenter of the pandemic. Pictures for Elmhurst is a print sale fundraiser for Elmhurst Hospital in NYC. 96 New York Photographers donated prints, and all proceeds from selling them go to Elhmhurst Hospital, to help fight COVID-19 (until April 20th).
America’s Food Fund was started recently to support food distributions monetarily, so that they can provide more food to more people around the United States.
For the past few weeks, we have been collaborating with other organizations and volunteers, including Unicef France, to pressure policy makers in the Paris area to provide emergency shelter and care to the 300+ homeless unaccompanied minors in this area. We wrote to journalists and the French Human Rights Defender. We also wrote an open letter, signed a joint open letter, accompanied a group of unaccompanied minors to an emergency shelter (we documented this in a previous blog post), and we’ve taken the fight to social media, where we are tweeting at elected officials from the Paris region, to ask that they do something to help. It’s been over 4 weeks since confinement started, and not much has changed (only one gym has been made available in Paris to unaccompanied minors and its availability is not widely known – they also don’t let all minors stay there, and getting in is a lengthy, inefficient process).
Now we are asking for reinforcements from you. We need your help! Here you will find a list of email addresses and Twitter handles for elected officials all over France. If you live in France, please send an email to your elected officials (even if you don’t vote!). If you don’t, you can send an email to Adrien Taquet, French Secretary of State for Child Protection. If you have Twitter (or are willing to open a Twitter account as several friends of Soul Food have already done), please tweet at as many elected officials as you can. You can retweet our open letter or one of our previous tweets. Here are a few examples: Example 1; Example 2. Please be respectful but firm. Feel free to use some of the text found in our open letters, or use your own words and make it personal, especially if you live & vote here. These policy makers are elected and voters have the right to demand that they live in a place where there are no children sleeping on the street, during any period, but especially during a pandemic!
Here are a few other advocacy campaigns that are close to our hearts:
In the United States (as in many countries), frontline medical workers do not have the proper equipment required for them to do their jobs safely. National Nurses United created a petition directed towards the government, to allocate funds and equipment.
Numerous chefs and restaurant owners in France are mobilized to fight against the system that has thus far, not held insurance companies accountable to protect these establishments. Many small business owners, and their employees’ livelihoods are at risk. You can sign and share the petition, to show your support. Stéphan Jégo from L’Ami Jean restaurant is leading the fight (as well as using his restaurant to help non-profits like Linkee with food distributions). Currently two of our young members are in apprenticeships at his restaurant and despite this lack of financial assurance, he has pledged to continue paying them their salary.
The ACLU has started a petition to ask for the release of vulnerable migrants from detention centers around the United States, where several COVID-19 outbreaks threaten the lives of many innocent people, including unaccompanied minors, and children.
Refugees in Greece are at a heightened risk, as they are forced to stay in overcrowded, unsanitary camps, without enough resources. They were already living under dangerous conditions before the pandemic, but now things have become increasingly worse. You can learn more about the situation and send a message to the Greek Prime Minister, requesting that basic conditions be improved (i.e., access to running water, waste removal, relocation to safer places, etc.), on Amnesty International’s website. Human Rights Watch is also working on an advocacy campaign, after years of research on the ground. You can go here to learn more about the kids stuck there, and share on social media to raise awareness and pressure governments to do something. #FreeTheKids!
Education & culture:
Using art and culture to help others and change the world is what we are all about at Soul Food, so of course we had to include some actions that are in line with this. Here are some initiatives that are inspiring us to act and be creative at the same time:
Cuentos sin Fronteras (Tales without Borders) is a social initiative that uses reading and storytelling to provide a recreational, thoughtful and educational space for migrant children and refugees in vulnerable situations in Panamá. They are staying active through this global health crisis and are looking for volunteers (to help out from home). Part of this work will serve to send messages of union, hope and joy through a story. Contact them here for more information (they are looking for participants who speak several different languages): email@example.com
Fundación Ayudinga is a non-profit organization in Panamá. On their website and YouTube channel, Spanish-speaking students can watch mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology lessons. Around the world, there are young people who do not currently have access to education, so if you know of anyone who might find this useful, it would be great to share it with them. There are also hardworking teachers who are struggling to virtually meet all of their students’ needs, and who might find these videos helpful, so please share!
For parents, guardians, educators and anyone with young people at home in the United States, Amplifier is mailing free artwork and teaching tools to adults who are now facilitating at-home learning. Since students are no longer able to attend schools, they are working with a national network of educators and youth leaders to create customized resources for you to use at home. You can register here.
We truly hope that these initiatives give you hope, and inspire you to help others during this difficult time. Please feel free to leave a comment if you know of other organizations working hard to help vulnerable people in your communities. Even from a distance, we are all stronger together.