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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Other Voices: Some of us are lucky in this pandemic. And here’s what we need to do.

By Petula Dvorak Washington Post

Blessed, fortunate, thankful, humbled and just so freaking lucky.

That’s a lot of us right now.

Sure, it’s a bummer to be locked inside because of the global pandemic, missing the big gatherings and rituals and milestones. Count yourself lucky if that’s all you’re missing – COVID-19 has brought devastation to lives, jobs, businesses, homes, mental health and physical safety.

And let’s be honest – for the millions of us who are lucky enough to still be employed, healthy and alive, our relief has a touch of survivor’s guilt.

But we can do something with that feeling: We have the power to help.

Giving Tuesday is happening, and rarely has mindful, targeted giving been more important. This is the year to choose organizations that are working on less obvious, COVID-related calamities.

While we’re still thinking about the smaller turkeys we had in our even tinier gatherings, let’s talk about food.

Have you seen those massive, snaking food lines across the nation before Thanksgiving? People lined up in their cars for miles, some of them driving in the night before and sleeping in their cars, hoping for a box of food to feed their families.

Those weren’t only about free turkeys. These lines are in every city in our nation every day, full of folks who have lost jobs, family members and their businesses.

There will be about 50 million hungry people in America by the end of the year – about 15 million more than in other years, according to Feeding America.

That’s one in six Americans who are going hungry.

“After years of declining food insecurity rates in our region, we are suddenly seeing this incredible increase,” Radha Muthiah, chief executive of the Capital Area Food Bank, told the Washington Post.

For those of us whose fridges are still packed with Thanksgiving leftovers hogging space on the shelves, there is an easy way to help: Donate to Feeding America.

Feeding America is the largest such organization in the nation. It helps coordinate massive efforts to put food on American tables and helps volunteers and donors connect with smaller food banks in their communities.

Hunger is hard to ignore. But too often, mental health troubles are easy to hide.

When we look back on this pandemic, the toll on our nation’s mental health may be one of the most profound and lasting impacts besides the virus itself.

Signs of depression have tripled in adults across America since lockdowns began, according to a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association. Depression, substance abuse and thoughts of suicide have risen, especially among young adults and teens, racial and ethnic minorities and essential workers, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And why wouldn’t they? Some folks have seen jobs, businesses, incomes and homes disappear. Normal social interaction has stopped, and the ones who need it most – kids – are hurting.

My own family has been struggling with this – often daily. So I also know that once you realize someone needs help, getting it isn’t easy – even for those people with health insurance, means and education.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness works across the nation to help those with mental health issues and their families. But they need help running the groups and answering the calls. Donations will keep the program going and help it expand to meet the COVID-19 surge.

For some, there’s another kind of therapy that’s a little more accessible – but still expensive – that’s helped during this time.

Pets are good for humans – science tells us this. Our oxytocin levels get a boost when we play with our dogs. (And theirs rise, too!) Furry four-leggeds help lower blood pressure and ease mental anxiety and have been proved to help children with autism and ADHD. Researchers at NIH even found that taking care of fish helps children with diabetes understand and treat their own disease better.

Pet adoptions have surged across America during the pandemic. (One of the most popular names for new puppies? Fauci.)

But here’s the tough part about pet ownership – ever been hit with a vet bill that knocks the wind out of you? Or how about monthly pet food bills? Not cheap.

So when a family falls into financial trouble during the pandemic, they have to make the wrenching choice between health care for humans and their pets.

The Humane Rescue Alliance helps families during financial hard times, providing low-cost veterinary care and supplies. To keep their operations running, they need about $50,000 for generators in the animal hospital and donations to buy medicine, food and supplies.

This one is a relatively small ask, but one that can bring joy and comfort to thousands of families who are facing tough decisions in these difficult times.

My neighbor Ruth’s comfort came from a giant Norwegian Forest cat named Sparky, who tolerated the red leash Ruth kept on him while she stopped passersby for conversation.

Ruth was one of those D.C. characters who told stories of her time drinking with generals and jumping from a train to escape the Holocaust. The silence she left behind when she died 10 years ago was profound.

We’re lucky, a lot of us – Ruth would’ve made sure to tell you that if you walked down our street. And though the speeches over a table and a turkey last week may have let us talk about our gratitude, Giving Tuesday is how we can show it, too.

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