How to give meaningfully, directly and fast

In October, my friend JJ Ramberg, founder of social podcasting app GoodPods in Los Angeles, put out a request for her 50th birthday: She asked loved ones to send food or a grocery gift card to at least one family in need. She provided a list of 50 households and their addresses in a neatly organized Google spreadsheet. Within weeks the list got circulated widely and, by the end, 70 families received much-needed food and supplies.

This kind of giving has been something of a silver lining to a dark year. Across the country people are providing the less fortunate with meals, rent payments, access to child care and more. It pains me that the U.S. government has yet to meet people's needs with a second economic relief plan, but I'm warmed by the individual acts of kindness I've seen.

The end of the year is a popular time to give and be charitable. If you're interested in helping even just one person or family during this crisis, here are some strategies that I believe work well and fast.

Sponsor child care.

With covid-19 cases on the rise, many schools have decided to close their doors and teach virtually. As a result, working parents are scrambling to figure out a child care solution they can afford.

If you'd like to help a family gain access to child care - which is also a way to ensure parents, especially moms, can stay in the workforce - reach out to your school district's Parent Teacher Association or Superintendent's office for guidance on the best ways to help. They may have a list of families looking for assistance. In my experience, once you connect with a parent and offer to help pay for child care, they can readily identify trustworthy helpers, such as a neighbor's college-aged daughter or an out-of-work family member, whom they can hire.

Personally, I went the social media route to help parents. Earlier this fall I put together a sponsorship for working families looking for child care or tutoring for their kids who were stuck at home while one or both parents worked. I budgeted $2,500, created an application using Google Forms, shared it online and within days received over 50 submissions. I didn't ask for outside donations, but in the end raised another $5,000 from friends who saw my post and wanted to support.

One of the parents we helped is a working single mother who used the donation to hire an in-person tutor for her two elementary-age children. The support not only helped her kids stay on track, but it gave her a leg up at her company where she was only a temp. "Your financial assistance helped me to continue working and I will be a permanent employee in a few months!" she wrote in our last email exchange.

If you can't support monetarily, try dialing your local library or YMCA and asking about in-person learning support. Our local YMCA in Montclair, New Jersey, for example, has been providing a safe and supervised space for kids from Kindergarten through eighth grade where they can attend school virtually. The drop-off program is not free (it's a little more than $1,000 for the month), but some scholarships have been made available thanks to community donations. And something I wouldn't have guessed is that students from all districts and schools are welcome, not just those from Montclair.

Assist with basics like food and rent.

To identify households to send groceries to, Ramberg simply asked around. One of her friends in New York is a nanny whose job was reduced during covid. "I asked her if she had other friends in similar positions who would want to receive groceries. She did. Friends referred friends," says Ramberg.

Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and GoFundMe, traditionally go-to sites for raising money for one's documentary or invention, have increasingly become platforms for everyday people seeking and providing donations for next month's rent, food and other necessities. GoFundMe, itself, is raising money for individuals through its Basic Necessities Cause Fund. To help individuals in need of pandemic relief, I'd recommend starting with the 'emergency' or 'medical' categories. You can also search locally to contribute to a fundraiser in your community.

For what it's worth, I was blown away by this example of a couple's decision to use their non-refundable catering deposit from a canceled wedding to feed 200 people. If you had to ditch plans for a wedding or bar mitzvah this year and lost a deposit, use this for inspiration.

Donate to organizations giving directly.

Finally, it may be easier to tap into an organization that's already doing the work of identifying individuals that need help. They can make donations directly to those people on your behalf.

To name just a few examples:

- is devoted to giving cash to individuals. They run global programs, including a Covid-19 response program that provides cash relief to those who've lost their jobs and need immediate help with things like rent and food.

- The 1KProject has a similar mission to help families straight away. You can become a sponsor for a household stricken by the pandemic and commit to giving $1,000 for three months.

- The National Domestic Workers Alliance also has a Coronavirus Care Fund that provides emergency assistance - usually in the form of a cash gift card - for home care workers, nannies and house cleaners who are facing financial hardship.

For those hurting right now, the gift of money may only be temporary financial relief. But it's also a priceless reminder that we will do our best to get through this together.

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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners. Torabi is a financial journalist, author and host of the "So Money" podcast.

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