Eight Local Nonprofits That Stepped Up to Help Others During the Pandemic

Nonprofits serving vulnerable communities took a hit during this pandemic year, but the desire to help others did not falter for these organizations.

Illustration by Emi Villavicencio

Nonprofits serving vulnerable communities took a hit during this pandemic year. But the desire to help others did not falter. In fact, the crisis inspired new ways to serve. These organizations thought fast on their feet to safely reach their clientele, brainstorming new programs to meet unprecedented physical and emotional needs, tackling food insecurity, access to masks, and plain old loneliness. And you can help, too.

Keeping Cincinnati Close

When COVID-19 prevented families from visiting relatives in nursing homes, a team of coworkers at UC Health started Keeping Cincinnati Close, which gets letters and cards from volunteers to elderly shut-ins. They reached out to senior facilities as well as friends in their personal social networks, and soon hundreds of notes, drawings, and cards were flowing from volunteers to people who needed cheering up. It didn’t matter that they were strangers to each other. “The people who receive the letters and cards feel loved and warm and not forgotten,” says Kelly Martin, assistant VP for marketing and communications at UC Health, adding, “Not everyone has money to donate to a cause. This is something that truly anybody can do.” uchealth.com/en/covid-19/keep-cincy-close

Sew Valley

Photograph by Aaron M. Conway

The pandemic forced Sew Valley, a manufacturing facility for “small batch” garment production (under 100 pieces), to furlough employees. But the sudden need for face coverings prompted the organization to bring workers back and activate a network of volunteer home-sewers. CEO Rosie Kovacs designed a cotton twill mask with fabric ties, and grants from United Way and the Haile Foundation helped fund the machinery and labor to turn out more than 10,000 of them, some of which were distributed free to communities in need. Sew Valley is now making PPE gowns for health care facilities. In addition to monetary donations, Sew Valley encourages the public to buy masks via its website. Home sewers are still welcome to volunteer. sewvalley.org

“I saw too many kids without face coverings. Sew Valley jumped right in, no hesitation, and donated masks for our dance team for rehearsals and performances.” —Marquicia Jones-Woods, director of Q-Kidz

Hoxworth Blood Center

The pandemic put a dent in the 12,000 units of blood that Hoxworth Blood Center collects monthly to serve 31 area hospitals. “The need never takes a break, because there will always be patients who need transfusions,” says Cara Nicholas, Hoxworth’s associate public relations director. The organization revved up its seven “bloodmobiles” in July and put out a call for new donors, since a large number of its regular donors—older adults at an elevated risk for COVID-19—went on hiatus. Hoxworth always needs more blood, but there are also ways to help that don’t involve needles: Accompany a nervous friend to donate, assist on a blood drive or at a donor center, or simply spread the word on social media, particularly when Hoxworth is low on a specific type of blood. hoxworth.org

“After receiving multiple transfusions, I was so grateful. It is a deep emotion that is hard to put into words. Just the overall feeling of gratitude to people who donate—to save my life, to help me get better, to make sure I can celebrate my next birthday.” —Alle Foster, former blood donor and recent blood recipient

Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired

A pandemic is particularly challenging—and scary—for those with disabilities. To keep its community informed, The Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired runs Radio Reading Services, which broadcasts everything from public health briefings to daily national newspapers to local grocery store ads, read aloud daily by volunteers. State-of-the-art technology allowed it to shift from recording live in its broadcast studio to coordinating a fleet of volunteers recording on smartphones at home. CABVI continues to increase its offerings with podcasts. Listeners can tune in online, over the phone, or with custom radio receivers. Volunteer readers are always in need, as are administrative helpers. cincyblind.org

Tamar’s Center

A refuge from the gritty streets, Tamar’s Center, run through Franciscan Ministries, is a daytime respite offering food, showers, clothing, and hygiene products to homeless women. It works one-on-one with clients to secure paperwork needed to get jobs, counseling, medical assistance, and housing. When the pandemic shut down the Philippus United Church of Christ, from which it operates, Tamar’s Center simply distributed supplies outside its doors and partnered with Greater Cincinnati Water Works to set up a handwashing station. “We never closed, we just pivoted,” says director Estelle McNair. Besides monetary donations, Tamar’s Center needs blankets, winter clothing for women, and hygiene products such as body wash, shampoo, deodorant, wipes, and hand sanitizer. (Call before dropping off at the church, at 107 W. McMicken Ave.) franciscanministriesinc.org/tamar-s-center.html

“Tamar’s Center helped me find a shelter and get mental health counseling. They drove me to my appointments as I got back on my feet. They made me feel like someone actually cared.” —“Anita,” homeless last winter, now renting her own apartment and working full time


Imagine opening a box delivered to you to find a colorful array of gardening supplies, jewelry-making materials, a board game, a puzzle, and a grown-up coloring book. That’s what several dozen people supported by LADD (originally Living Arrangements for the Developmentally Disabled) experienced this past spring, delighting them with activities and entertainment. The Brighter Days Boxes are one of the many ways LADD took its services virtual and at-home (others include daily online hangouts and fitness classes). Volunteers can help by donating $75 for a new Brighter Days Box or simply assisting with delivering them. laddinc.org

“I was surprised and excited to receive the box. I made crafts and gave some away. It really cheered us up!” —Susie, LADD client

Cincinnati NKY Match

It all started when University of Cincinnati medical students were unable to conduct their clinical training due to the pandemic lockdown. With time on their hands and a desire to do something positive for others, they started Cincinnati NKY Match (taking inspiration from a Louisville group doing the same thing). It has paired more than 100 able-bodied helpers with those who are either unable to get out or hesitant to do so because they are at high risk of contracting COVID-19. “Volunteers do contactless deliveries of groceries or resources from food banks,” says Emily Bopp, who is involved in the one-on-one program. “In some cases they simply keep up with clients through an occasional phone call.” cincinnatimatch.wixsite.com/website 

GO Pantry

GO Pantry, which provides 750 Northern Kentucky schoolkids with food to last over weekends and during school closures, had to get creative this spring to secure, pack, and distribute supplies for home-bound children. Food drives once supplied all the food it needed, but when store shelves emptied and people were advised not to donate food that was not yet deemed safe, GO Pantry had to divert from their food drive model, soliciting monetary donations and buying food wherever it could find it. “We’re big planners, and we had to get flexible and willing to change direction to continue helping people,” says cofounder Laura Dumancic. Besides donations to keep that food purchasing going, GO needs volunteers to pick up and pack food. It urges individuals to conduct their own food drives—no matter how small—among family, friends, or coworkers. Check GO Pantry’s website for specific food needs, and drop donations at GO’s secure drop area, which is open 24/7. gopantry.org

“GO Pantry saw right away that there would be a long-term need to get food to kids on days that schools are not open. Those of us serving students in the schools did not have to panic because they stepped in so quickly.” —Laura Klein Mosqueda, Youth Service Center Coordinator at Con­ner High School

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