Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 24 seconds

As shelter-in-place ordinances extend across the world, many people are struggling to find refuge in safe harbors outside their homes. Because, for some, home is not the safest place. In these trying times, nonprofit organizations around the nation are using technology to help the people who need it the most.

To help other nonprofits reach the communities they serve I wanted to share the heroic ways crisis response nonprofits are using technology to help people grappling with issues ranging from hunger to abuse during the pandemic. 

Safely deploying emergency food assistance

After seeing an unprecedented increase in the need for the food they rescue and deliver during COVID-19, City Harvest utilized Plentiful to help New Yorkers stay up to date with the latest information on how to safely access the food they need. With Plentiful’s SMS-based reservation system New York residents can schedule times to pick up food from a pantry with just a text message.

Before the current crisis, Plentiful saved residents 45 minutes of wait time and helped users plan around their work schedules to avoid waiting in harsh weather. Now, the technology mitigates the need for crowded lines and empowers food pantry staff and volunteers to safely distribute food, which has resulted in 62% more clients texting in to schedule appointments than usual. Plentiful also empowers pantries to message residents who’ve used their services in the past with the latest information on open hours and food availability. Over the last week, pantry partners sent 474% more messages compared to their average.

Giving hope to those in despair

Fear of illness, anxiety around job security and concern for sick loved ones has caused individuals to seek support. After seeing a 116% increase in inbound texts and a 50% spike in conversations about the virus, Crisis Text Line doubled the capacity of its hotline and used an SMS shortcode to help individuals around the globe.

Additionally, organizations like Lifeline Australia have also geared up to tackle similar problems. To provide resources and non-judgmental support Lifeline Australia spun up a cloud-based remote escalation portal to continue to address the uptick in call volume surrounding COVID-19.

Helping families care for children struggling with substance use

Parents sheltering with their children now have to navigate new questions about whether to allow substance use in the home. In fact, some might have to confront children leaving the house to access drugs, potentially exposing family members to more risk. The Center on Addiction and Partnership for Drug-Free Kids developed a new COVID-19 resource center and are using its helpline and text messaging to help family members who have a loved one struggling with alcohol or substance use problems.

“Parents and caregivers need more help than ever on how best to support their children at home,” said Fred Muench, President of Center on Addiction. “Through our text COVID Program and one-on-one digital helpline service, family members now have a discrete way to get support.”

By offering various channels, such as voice, video and SMS, the Center on Addiction has seen a 37% increase in the amount of back and forth text messages and a 10% increase in the time individuals are staying on the phone compared to this time last year.

Helping sexual abuse survivors cope

RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline, which provides free, anonymous and confidential support to survivors of sexual assault and their loved ones.

According to Scott Berkowitz, president of RAINN, “Last month half of the users on RAINN’s online hotline were minors. Of these, 67% identified their perpetrator as a family member and, of those, 79% said they were living with that perpetrator. With kids cut off from their safety net, abuse reports have declined — not because there is less abuse, but as a byproduct of children having less contact with adults outside the home.”

The power of communications

Now, more than ever, we’re seeing the power of communications to support at-risk communities. Even a simple phone call or text message can make a big impact on someone struggling during this difficult time.


Erin Reilly, Twilio Chief Social Impact Officer

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