Insights & Stories

How You Can Help Make a Difference in Hawaii during the COVID-19 Crisis

Reading time: 6 Minutes

April 9th, 2020

Coronavirus Disease 2019, or COVID-19 for short, has largely brought the world to a standstill in recent weeks, and Hawaii is no different. Residents have been ordered to stay at home through April 30 2020, in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus, and tourism has come to a virtual standstill. Local companies are having their employees work remotely or ceasing operations entirely, except for organizations deemed essential to sustain critical infrastructure, such as those in the healthcare, food service, and transportation industries. The impact on our economy is dramatic, and it's likely things will continue to get harder before they get better.

But Hawaii will weather this storm as it has in challenging times before: by drawing together as one ohana, one community. If you're interested in helping to make a difference right now, here are a few ways you can contribute (beyond social distancing and washing your hands with soap):

Make a Donation

While many of us are staying inside, working from home and being mindful about hygiene to help curb the spread of COVID-19, thousands of Hawaii workers are continuing to show up for their jobs, providing essential services and managing key programs that keep Hawaii up and running. 

If you have the means, consider making a donation to support these essential programs. Your contributions can have a significant impact, now more than ever.

One good place to start is the Hawaii Resilience Fund, which was established by Hawaii Community Foundation and the Omidyar Ohana Fund to address the growing social and economic impacts of COVID-19 in Hawaii. It’s received support from donors ranging from the Bank of Hawaii Foundation to the Stupski Foundation, and uses a four-phase approach to help protect Hawaii’s most vulnerable residents.

Sew Masks or Donate Personal Protective Equipment

If you know your way around a needle and thread, consider sewing personal protective masks for friends, family and healthcare professionals. Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell is recommending all Oahu residents wear a mask whenever going out in public, to minimize the risk of incidental exposure to COVID-19.

A drastic increase in demand for surgical-grade masks in hospitals and health centers means that any available N95 respirators, which filter out 95 percent of airborne particles, should be reserved for medical experts and frontline responders directly treating COVID-19 patients. (This also goes for KN95 masks, which are functionally almost identical to N95 masks, and were recently approved for healthcare use by the Food and Drug Administration.) For the rest of us, cloth masks offer some level of protection against the transmission of the virus through coughing, breathing, or even just touching our faces.

Just make sure you're assembling masks that provide adequate protection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, effective homemade masks should be made up of at least two layers of tightly woven material, such as cotton sheets or quilting fabric; fit snugly but comfortably on the nose and mouth, as well as against the sides of the face; allow for breathing without restriction; and be able to be washed and machine dried without damaging the mask or changing its shape. Kaiser Permanente, Hawaii Pacific Health and The Queen's Health Systems are all accepting donations of masks or other personal protective equipment, if you have them.

Eat Local - Order Out

Sheltering in place doesn't have to mean eating plain rice and canned goods for the next few weeks. In fact, many popular restaurants are still open, and offering take-out or curbside pickup. Delivery services such as GrubHub and UberEats are waiving commission or delivery fees for orders placed from independent restaurants. (Although if you do order delivery, please leave a generous tip for your driver!)

If you're in the mood for a pau hana beverage, many local breweries are selling their craft beers to-go, in growlers. Several bars and gastropubs have begun offering whole bottles of liquor for take-out sale, as well as cocktail kits, complete with housemade syrups and recipe cards, so you can enjoy signature mixed drinks at home.

Want to support local restaurants and retailers but aren't sure what to order? Consider purchasing a gift card or certificate for future dining or shopping. Additionally, several businesses have begun offering free shipping for products sent to anywhere in Hawaii and across the mainland

For the latest information on restaurants statewide offering takeout, delivery and curbside pickup, check out Food-a-Go-Go, a local online directory of options ranging from fine dining to casual.

Donate Blood

As the sole provider of blood products, including red blood cells, platelets and plasma, to all 18 hospitals across the Islands, the Blood Bank of Hawaii needs about 200 donors every day just to meet the needs of Hawaii's patients under normal circumstances. However, close to 30 blood drives scheduled through May in Hawaii have been cancelled due to concern over the possible spread of COVID-19, leading to concern that there won't be enough local blood product reserves should the need arise. Nationwide, blood supply shortages are reaching as high as 30 percent in some areas.

Although the Blood Bank of Hawaii is not currently holding mass-blood drives or accepting walk-ins, it's still possible to donate blood by appointment. Hawaii residents are permitted to leave their homes to give blood; visit or call 808-848-4770 for more information or to schedule an appointment.

Shop for Kupuna

For the elderly and those with previous, underlying health conditions, COVID-19 may pose a greater health risk of severe illness. For this reason, many stores, including Foodland, Times Supermarket, and Whole Foods, have begun offering special hours (usually the first hour of business) on certain days dedicated to senior citizens, those with chronic conditions, and their accompanying caregivers or family members.

If you have elderly relatives, coworkers or neighbors, another way to make a difference is by offering to pick up groceries, prescriptions, or other supplies on their behalf. It'll save seniors a trip to the store and help minimize exposure for those individuals who might be more vulnerable to the effects of coronavirus.

Support the Arts

So many of our local arts organizations—museums, galleries, theaters, concert halls, music venues, hula halau, creative spaces—rely on support and income generated from in-person events, such as exhibitions, workshops, rentals or live performances. Some of these events can instead be broadcast online, but many require the physical presence of performers, participants or audiences.

Large gatherings of any kind are prohibited until at least the end of April, but it's still possible to support your favorite local arts nonprofit. Now is a perfect time to become a season subscriber at nearby community theaters or to sign up as a sustaining member of galleries or other creative spaces—or to give the gift of a subscription or membership to friends and family. Another way to support the arts is by purchasing works by your favorite local artist, either directly or through a gallery website, or even by commissioning a new piece.

Share Your Skills

Many nonprofits struggle to meet the demand for volunteer help throughout a regular year, let alone during these challenging times. Several organizations allow you to help from home: offers access to thousands of books online to people with reading disabilities; online volunteers can help scan books to be added to their digital collection, or edit scanned books.

Be My Eyes is a free mobile app that connects blind or low-vision individuals with sighted volunteers to help solve tasks, such as checking expiration dates, distinguishing colors or navigating unfamiliar surroundings.

The Smithsonian Institution offers a digital volunteer program that invites the public to make its collections more easily accessible, by transcribing and reviewing historical documents and records for research and preservation.

Stay Connected

With so many multigenerational homes in Hawaii, sheltering-in-place may present an opportunity to spend meaningful time with loved ones. But many others may be separated from loved ones, or are living alone. Make a special effort to reach out and offer support to those who might feel particularly isolated during this time of self-quarantine, or see if there is assistance you can lend neighbors, friends, or family who have compromised immune systems and may be unable to safely leave their home.

Video messaging programs, either on your phone or computer, can offer an easy way to keep in touch. But even just a quick phone call, email, text or handwritten letter can go a long way in preventing loneliness for friends and family members who have potentially been alone or without meaningful contact for weeks. Don't be shy!

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