Every day since the coronavirus pandemic began, a number of people have been risking their lives for the greater good. Doctors, nurses, grocery store clerks, rideshare drivers, police officers, warehouse workers—the list goes on. Despite most of us being told to stay home, they continue doing their jobs. The government calls them “essential workers.” We deem them heroes.
While many of us sit safely inside our home social distancing, the few times we venture outside for fresh air, these people are heading into public places on a regular basis to help. They are helping to make sure we have food on the table. They are helping to keep us safe. They are helping to keep people alive.
The famous Mr. Rogers quote could not be more relevant: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” But in times like these, we should not only look for the helpers. We should help the helpers, too. If you have someone in your life who is an essential worker, consider what you can do for them right now. Whether you have some extra money to spend on them or not, there are plenty of ways you can show your support for the great work they are doing.
Before you decide on a gift, note that some things people would normally love to receive are not ideal gifts right now. Daniella Forte, a nurse at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, has been experiencing this. “People are sending flowers, which is nice, but not something we need right now,” she says. “Other things we love but don’t want right now are homemade goods and meals, unless you can reheat them. The virus could be carried on those cold foods and containers.”
After speaking with a few essential workers, including nurses, grocery store employees, and delivery drivers, we got to the heart of what this brave workforce would really appreciate right now. If you want to help the helpers, here are 15 great options they would love.
1. Essential items
Many essential workers can’t get to stores right now to pick up items. Forte recommends mailing nonperishable items and household essentials. You can even put together a care package of a variety of things including pastas, canned food, cleaning wipes, tissues, disinfectant spray, and toilet paper (if you can find it).
“My mother-in-law gave me wipes that I use to clean off my steering wheel and wipe things down when I’m getting gas including my credit card and phone. It was the best gift,” Ashlynn Parker, a physical therapist in Baltimore, Maryland, says. Because essential workers like Forte and Parker have limited free time, it’s even harder for them to seek out those high-demand products.
On the money transfer app, Venmo, people have been sending a few dollars for coffee to their essential worker friends and family. It’s something small and simple, but much appreciated by those who rely on coffee before—or during—their shifts. Mark Green, a postal worker in Richmond, Virginia, says, “Everyone here gets so excited when friends Venmo us money or give gift cards for ‘next coffee on me.’ It’s the little things that keep us going!”
3. Food delivery gift cards
Many essential workers are working over-time or longer shifts than normal to serve their communities. So when they get home, the last thing they feel like doing is slaving away in the kitchen. Treat them to a meal from their favorite restaurant by giving them a gift card to a food delivery service like GrubHub or DoorDash. You should also check if you can purchases gift cards directly from restaurants first, to support these small businesses directly.
4. Activities to entertain their kids
Many parents who are essential workers are currently separated from their children for months due to the coronavirus outbreak, so they need things to keep their kids (who are now at home thanks to school closures) busy. Some ideas for the moms and dads in your life include sidewalk chalk, washable paints, puzzles, or board games.
5. Bubble bath products
There are few things more relaxing than a bubble bath. And if anyone needs one of those right now, it’s essential workers. Gift them some much-needed bath accessories like this wildly popular coconut milk bath soak or one of these bath bombs (bonus points if you choose calming scents like lavender or eucalyptus!).
6. Clothing for less laundry
In these hectic times, many health workers barely have time to sleep let alone do their laundry. Yet they’re still going through multiple pairs of scrubs a day. The solution? Giving them a gift certificate to a scrubs retailer, like Figs, the winners of our best compression socks testing. Other places to get a fresh set of scrubs include Dickies, or Work ‘N Gear. You’ll save them time, money, and stress.
7. Headphones to tune out the world
Dealing with the current world we live in is a lot right now—especially for essential workers. So chances are, when they’re at home or traveling to and from work, sometimes they just need an escape (or at least a little privacy to make phone calls to friends and family). For that, gift them a great pair of Bluetooth wireless headphones like everyone’s favorite AirPods Pro or this budget-friendly pair from JLab.
8. Lotion for over-washed hands
Essential workers more than anyone know the importance of washing their hands regularly. And since they’re likely doing it every few minutes throughout the day, they’re also likely suffering from extra-dry hands. For that, they need lotion—and not the fruity scented kind from Bath and Body Works but the heavier duty, unscented kind. Gretchen Catlin, a nurse at St. Joe’s Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland, suggests Aquaphor or Cetaphil in particular.
9. Streaming service subscriptions
Kicking their feet up on the couch and zoning out in front of the TV could be just what the essential workers in your life need after dealing with the public all day (or all night). And a subscription to one of the popular streaming services will help them do just that. Whether it’s Netflix, Hulu, or Disney+, they’ll thank you for the much-needed stress relief.
Reading is a great way to unwind after a long day of work (and a great escape from all the stress and coronavirus news). Order them one of the top 100 books to read right now or gift them a subscription to Kindle Unlimited. They can use the app on any device—i.e. they don’t actually need a Kindle—and will have access to thousands of e-books and audiobooks that they can read anytime, anywhere.
11. Uber gift certificates
Staff who take Ubers to work will love a gift certificate to ease the burden of their daily commute. Depending how long said commute is, the minimum $25 you can send could cover multiple days of work (which means they can put their paycheck towards more important things, like food and other essentials). Bonus: They can also use their Uber gift card towards food delivery with UberEats.
READ: How to ease the burden of commuting employees
12. Things to look forward to
Essential workers might not have a lot of time right now (or places to go) for entertainment but you can give them something for when this is all over. Like a gift certificate to their favorite restaurant (that way, you’re helping the restaurant too!) or their favorite store. Another easy idea? “I would love a nail salon gift certificate, as we are not allowed to have our nails done anymore,” Forte says.
13. Donations to hospitals of high-demand items
You might not be able to send homemade food or treats to hospitals for their staff but you can send items that they’re in massive need of right now. A lot of hospitals are providing lists on their websites of which items they’re looking for. Those lists include supplies like masks, hand sanitizer, scrubs, exam gloves, and gowns. Check with your local hospital for details (many require unopened boxes of supplies or that the items be pre-approved).
We all know that sometimes after a stressful day at work, all you really want—and need—is a nice stiff drink to take the edge off. And your friends or family members who are essential workers are no different. Send them a bottle of wine (or the liquor of their choosing) with a delivery service like Drizly and DoorDash.
15. Staying home
One of the best gifts you can give essential workers? Staying home to help prevent the spread of the virus. That means avoiding going out unless you absolutely must. Even if you need groceries, consider ordering online through a grocery delivery service. The less you’re out and about, the better.