Community is important, especially during COVID-19.

However, a feeling of tight-knit camaraderie and spirit seems especially strong in Columbia, Missouri. People who have chosen this friendly, thriving Midwestern hot spot as a nesting, resting, or learning place have drawn together to support small local businesses and charities like never before.

Truly, Columbia residents are buoying each other in inspirational ways. At a recent Love INC board meeting, I found out that donations to the organization have increased since the COVID-19 crisis began. That’s a true testament to how supportive everyone is in this neck of the woods. If a community member admits, “I need this,” they’ll typically hear, “I can help” from a Columbian. That’s commitment.

When Giving Back, Start at Home

As a faith-filled individual, I believe that giving should be a year-round, 24/7 endeavor whether or not there’s a pandemic on the global stage. That’s why I stand behind nonprofits that assist people struggling with poverty (such as Love INC) or places that make it easier for those addicted to drugs and alcohol to get back on their feet (such as Phoenix Programs).

In my leadership and advisory roles for those charities, I use my business expertise to help them steer through good and tough times. And this season absolutely qualifies as the latter.

COVID-19 has caused untold hardships throughout our community. Many workers have lost jobs. Others have lost loved ones. Businesses — even those that received Paycheck Protection Program loans — are unsure of what the future holds. It’s a challenging time. Yet it’s also an opportunity for everyone to remember that giving starts at the micro level, meaning at home.

Finding Novel Ways to Make a Difference

Philanthropy comes in different packages. Certainly, donating even a modest amount of money would help a nonprofit or family pay for services and bills. I’m reminded of the Biblical parable about the widow’s mite: Just give what you can. If a lot of people follow that suggestion, they can raise tremendous sums and help countless individuals.

Of course, I understand if you have to watch over your budget more intensely than you did before COVID-19. However, you can still support local businesses in other ways as we move into the next chapter of the coronavirus story. Here are just a few of them:

1. Offer up your time. If you have time to spare, consider serving charities or businesses. Time is a valuable resource, and many people have more of it than they did before the pandemic. Perhaps that’s part of God’s bigger plan, freeing us up so we can share our talents through local volunteer opportunities.

For instance, the city of Columbia is looking for helpers and donations. Another area resource in need of volunteers’ help is The Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri; former director Peggy Kirkpatrick made that organization what it is today, reducing food insecurity for countless local individuals and families. Finally, CoMoHelps operates as a clearinghouse to distribute services and goods rapidly to those in immediate need. Any of these charities could use support.

2. Support your favorite eateries. Restaurants are suffering. Even with COVID-19 eat-in restrictions lifted, they still can’t fill to capacity — meaning less money in the pipeline. Plus, plenty of people are concerned about eating in enclosed spaces with strangers. If you’re one of them, I suggest reading through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines to learn more about protecting yourself if you do decide to visit a restaurant. As a side note, make sure you tip well: Restaurant staffers depend on tips even more throughout this pandemic.

My wife, Kelly, and I have been trying to eat at or pick up food from local dining establishments when possible. We headed to G&D Pizzaria to grab some food not long ago, and we took our order straight to the park for a relaxing picnic on a gorgeous day.

3. Buy locally. Although it’s tempting to purchase everything online from e-commerce giants, try to buy from community suppliers, too. This includes produce. Local farmers count on being able to sell to consumers, restaurants, and grocers during summer and autumn. They don’t want to be left with unsold fruits, vegetables, plants, herbs, and flowers. So make trips to the farmers market or reach for locally sourced items when you stop by the grocery store.

Even if you aren’t interested in making a specific purchase today at a Columbia business, why not snatch up a gift card or two for later? You can use the gift card for the holidays or keep it for yourself. The business will get the money upfront, and you’ll cross a to-do off your gifting list.

Remember: We’re not a bunch of isolated islands. We’re a team of citizens. We’ll get through COVID-19 together, but we still need to stay connected. To that end, I encourage you to stay in touch with me on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn. I’d love to hear about how you’re supporting local businesses during and after the COVID-19 shutdowns.

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