Adapting to the surge: a worker at Whole Foods, a unit of Amazon, hauls packages for home delivery to customers (Photo by Kyodo via AP Images)

Our news roundup focusing on how businesses and other organizations are making purposeful efforts to provide help at a time of crisis.

Updated April 1

Kohl’s: Launching curbside pickup tomorrow 

In an email to customers this week, Kohl’s CEO Michelle Gass announced that the 1,200-store chain would begin a new "drive-up" feature that allows shoppers to order items online and have them placed in the back of their cars upon arrival. The stores will remain closed to the public. Participating locations are to be announced on the company's website kohls.com starting tomorrow.

Facebook: New feature to encourage neighborly behavior

The social-media giant announced a new “Community Help” feature that allows users to volunteer to help neighbors in their area. Within a 50-mile radius, volunteers can help deliver groceries, medicine, and run errands for sick or elderly neighbors. The feature is set to roll out this week in the U.S., U.K., and France.

Crocs: Donating shoes to frontline health-care workers 

The company's CEO Andrew Rees is donating 10,000 shoes for nurses and doctors across the U.S. Workers can have the shoes, known for their comfort and easy clean-up, delivered to their homes by going to crocs.com/freeforhealthcare. "These workers have our deepest respect, and we are humbled to be able to answer their call and provide whatever we can to help during this unprecedented time," said Rees.

Dallas Mavericks: Owner supports arena workers 

NBA team owner Mark Cuban has put into place a program to continue to pay hourly workers who are now out of a job. With the league unsure when games will resume, thousands of workers are now left empty handed. Cuban also plans to work with organizations to provide day care for frontline health workers.

Bloom Energy: Fixing up old ventilators

While many companies are starting from scratch, a California-based company called Bloom Energy has taken to refurbishing thousands of old and broken ventilators to send out to hospitals in need. “This is a really good reminder and representation of the power of American manufacturing, and Americans coming together to support the community,” said Susan Brennan, Bloom’s chief operating officer.

Updated March 30

Yum Brands: CEO forgoes salary to help restaurant managers

CEO David Gibbs, who oversees brands including KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell, announced today that he will give his 2020 salary to restaurant general managers in the form of one-time, $1,000 bonuses. His expected $900,000 will also be used to fund the Yum Brands Foundation Global Employee Relief Fund to help employees directly impacted by the pandemic. 

Facebook: A pledge $100 million to news media

News publishers, particularly the print media, are taking a hit during this pandemic and Facebook is offering its help. From the promised $100 million total, $25 million will be given to local media, while the remaining $75 million will be spent in marketing for global news organizations. Both Facebook and Google, whose dominance in the market for online advertising has exacerbated the decline of American newsrooms, have earlier pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to assist local media.

Johnson & Johnson: Making progress on a coronavirus vaccine 

With a $1 billion investment from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, a federal agency, Johnson & Johnson announced it is getting closer to a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus. Human testing could begin as early as September, with use possibly by early 2021. The company is also partnering with other countries to speed up manufacturing capacity. 

Amazon: Alexa voice assistant now offering triage 

The company has added a new feature to the popular Alexa voice assistant to help users gauge their risk level for coronavirus. The AI-bot will respond with questions about symptoms and travel history, while offering expert health guidance from the CDC about how to get help if they are at risk. Alexa will also sing you a song for 20 seconds while you wash your hands, the minimum washing time advised by health experts.  

Medical drones: taking flight in the U.S.?

Zipline, a medical drone delivery service launched in Rwanda, is now working to bring its devices to the U.S. In Ghana, the company has already used the drones to deliver emergency masks and gloves to regional hospitals. The startup is currently brainstorming ways to use the drones for prescription delivery as well.

Updated March 27

Walmart: Waiving rent for essential partner businesses

For the month of April, Walmart will offer rent relief to more than 10,000 businesses housed in their stores such as hair salons, veterinary clinics, banks, and eye doctors. The company has seen a boom in sales since the coronavirus pandemic and has also announced it will give $500 million in bonuses to hourly workers.

Apple: New CDC-approved screening app and website

The company announced a new website and iOS app that allows users to take a questionnaire to screen for possible symptoms. The app and website include information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the virus and what to do if the app indicates that a user may be positive for COVID-19.

Instacart: Hiring as demand escalates

As more Americans stay home and avoid grocery stores, Instacart has announced it will seek to hire 300,000 independent contractors over the next three months, nearly doubling its current workforce. "The last few weeks have been the busiest in Instacart's history and our teams are working around the clock to reliably and safely serve all members of our community," said Instacart founder and CEO Apoorva Mehta.

Dyson: Founder designs new ventilator in record time

In response to an order from UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is suffering from coronavirus himself, the vacuum-cleaner company announced that it has designed a ventilator that will be ready to distribute to hospitals as soon as April. The devices will meet National Health Service requirements.

Columbia University: Putting 3D printers to good use

Madiha Choksi, research-and-learning-technologies librarian at Columbia University, put the school’s 3D printer to work this week by printing face shields for health workers. With help of volunteers, she has turned a local New York community center into an assembly line for the equipment.

Updated March 25

Snapchat: New games encourage staying at home

Zenly, the Snapchat app that allows you to share your location with friends, is now releasing a Stay at Home leaderboard to challenge users to help contain the coronavirus outbreak by staying at home. Zenly also offers a coronavirus lens, which allows users to see the number of confirmed cases updated on a map three times per day using data from the World Health Organization and Johns Hopkins University.

Restaurants: New food automation and 100% contactless production

Creator, a restaurant in San Francisco, is innovating with automated food production and a new pressurized “transfer chamber” that allows workers and delivery workers to eliminate the passage of germs during pick-up. “We can’t restart the economy until retail and restaurant workers are protected,” says Creator founder Alex Vardakostas. “They’re some of the most important people to keep virus-free.”

Neiman Marcus: Partnering to ship protective gear to health-care workers

Luxury retailer Neiman Marcus and Jo-ann Stores, the fabric-and-craft chain, are joining efforts to provide masks, gloves, and scrubs in several facilities across the U.S. The materials are not fully medical grade, but will follow health guidelines from the Providence Hospital System in Washington, reported the Dallas Morning News.

3M: Ramping up N95 respirator mask production 

Creator of Post-it Notes, Scotch tape, and various office supplies, 3M has been refining its response to health emergencies for nearly two decades. The company doubled global production of N95 masks and is shipping them to the hardest-hit areas in the U.S. The company is also announcing a partnership with Ford Motor Co. to produce air-purifying respirators for severely ill patients.

Updated March 24

Nike: Top Athletes promote new coronavirus PSA

The company known for the message “Just do it” is campaigning a new one: “Play inside, play for the world.” Among the famous athletes to endorse the message are LeBron James, Michael Jordan, and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ford: new ads and expedited ventilator and mask production

Instead of a scheduled March Madness-themed campaign, Ford released a new ad with the tagline “Built to Lend a Hand,” encouraging those struggling to make car-loan payments to contact them if they need help, Fast Company reports. The company is also teaming up with 3M, GE, and the UAW to produce 100,000 face masks and disposable respirators using a 3D printer.

Kraft-Heinz: donating $12 million to those in need

The company announced it would offer millions in cash and products, including Heinz Gravy, Planters Nut Mixes, and the old standby, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.

Lyft: Free rides for essential transportation

Lyft announced on its blog that the company will be donating tens of thousands of rides to those severely in need of transportation during the pandemic. Among the beneficiaries: families with children, low-income seniors, and medical staff working on the front lines. The company will also partner with several non-profits to enhance its LyftUp platform to provide accessible and safe transportation.

GiveDirectly: Charity to start sending checks to Americans 

Known for sending funds to the poor in Africa, GiveDirectly will begin sending one-time grants of $1,000 to those most affected by the outbreak. First in line will be Americans who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps. “I think the need will be in the millions of households in America, and we’d love to reach as many of those as we can,” said Joe Huston, chief financial officer.
Updated March 23

JPMorgan Chase: Bonuses for "front-line" employees

In addition to providing all employees five extra days of paid leave, Chase announced it will hand out $1,000 bonuses to bank tellers and “front-line employees” during the pandemic. The bank will also be closing roughly 20% of branches to help slow the spread of the virus.

Zoom: CEO Eric Yuan is giving K-12 schools his video conferencing tools for free

As the COVID-19 virus sweeps across the planet, leading to quarantined cities and shut-down schools, Zoom has emerged as one of the leading tools to keep businesses up and running and students learning. On Wednesday, the most recent day for which data is available, 343,000 people globally downloaded the Zoom app, compared to 90,000 people just two months ago, Forbes reported.

Walmart: a "mini-stimulus package" and new hires this spring

The largest U.S. company announced bonuses of $300 for full-time staff and $150 for part-time staff. The company will also be hiring 150,000 new employees through the end of May. “It is quite frankly, unprecedented, the type of sustained pressure that we’re seeing,” said Dan Bartlett, a Walmart EVP. “It is like Black Friday day after day after day in some respects.”

Netflix: $100 million to hard-hit production crews

The streaming site announced Friday that it would circulate $100 million of relief funds to workers idled by halted film and TV productions. This is in addition to the two weeks of pay the company already promised. Set builders, electricians, and drivers and other hourly workers will be included in the relief distribution. “We are only as strong as the people we work with,” said Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief creative officer.

Yves Saint Laurent and Balenciaga: shifting to surgical-mask production

Known for their high-fashion luxury items, French brands Yves Saint Laurent and Balenciaga are ramping up new production of personal protective equipment. The Swedish fast-fashion retailer H&M followed suit, announcing it will start producing and delivering surgical masks. “We are all in this together, and have to approach this as collectively as possible,” said Anna Gedda, head of sustainability at H&M Group.

Updated March 19

Amazon: A massive hiring plan underway, plus raises

Amazon has announced it will fill 100,000 new full- and part-time warehouse and delivery positions to meet demand driven by the coronavirus. Amazon will also be increasing pay for current employees, though the company faces criticism from workers over safety precautions.

The New York Times: free subscriptions for pandemic news

America's biggest legacy newspaper, which has become a "digital behemoth," is offering readers free access to its online coronavirus updates. Normally the Times charges $17 a month for a digital subscription, but is now offering one for $4 a month for the first year.

Dolce & Gabbana: funding coronavirus research

As the fashion industry takes a hit during the outbreak, Dolce & Gabbana has partnered with Humanitas University to fund a research project which aims to blaze the trail for “the development of diagnostic and therapeutic interventions” against the disease, fashionista.com reports.

The Big Telecoms: pledging to keep Americans connected

Sprint, Comcast, Charter, Verizon, and other cable and wireless providers have signed a 60-day pledge that will waive late fees, open up Wi-Fi hotspots, and keep services turned on even when customers fall behind in their payments.

Delta Air Lines: the CEO forgoes salary 

As airlines take some of the pandemic's worst financial hits, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian has announced he will be forgoing his salary for six months as part of dramatic cost-cutting. "The speed of the demand fall-off is unlike anything we’ve seen–and we’ve seen a lot in our business," he said. "We are moving quickly to preserve cash and protect our company."

Broadway: Theaters to stream plays and musicals

Shutdowns of live-theater productions across the globe have boosted business on streaming platforms like BroadwayHD and inspired a daily live concert series, “Stars in the House,” which features Broadway regulars like Kristin Chenoweth, Sara Bareilles and Jeremy Jordan.

Updated March 18

Customer care: stores offer “elderly hours” to protect vulnerable customers

In response to a slew of panic-buying for items like toilet paper, cleaning products, and non-perishable foods, many retail chains including Whole Foods and Target have set aside times for elderly and vulnerable shoppers to get what they need without the crowds. Albertsons, which has 2,200-plus stores under banners including Safeway, Acme and Vons, says it is reserving two hours every Tuesday and Thursday morning for vulnerable shoppers, including senior citizens, pregnant women or those with compromised immune systems, USA Today reported.

Broadway: A star encourages students to share music from canceled shows

Tony-winner Laura Benanti took to Twitter to send a message to students meant to perform in high-school musicals that have been canceled due to the coronavirus. The tweet inspired an explosion of wholesome theater videos from students and teachers.

Fine dining: converting to grab-and-go

Canlis, a fine-dining restaurant at the epicenter of the outbreak in Seattle, is adjusting its business model by offering a drive-through as well as “family meal” delivery service. “If my job is to feed and restore a city, then I have to do it inside the new rules,” says co-owner Mark Canlis.

Absolut: donating alcohol to make hand sanitizer

Pernod Richard, the maker of the iconic Absolut Vodka brand, said it will donate 70,000 liters of alcohol to Laboratoire Cooper, which supplies sanitizer gels to pharmacies, and said it would be donating an equivalent amount to health-care organizations, the New York Times reported. Britain's revenue office said it will speed up the processinng of applications by manufacturers of other products to turn their alcohol into sanitizers.

Amazon: focusing on the essentials

To keep up with surging demand for essential goods, Amazon announced that it will no longer accept deliveries of other items at its warehouses, at least until April 5. "We are temporarily prioritizing household staples, medical supplies, and other high-demand products coming into our fulfillment centers so that we can more quickly receive, restock, and deliver these products to customers,” the company announced. Earlier, the company said it plans to hire 100,000 more workers to keep the goods flowing.

Sweetgreen: connecting hospitals to fresh food

The fast-casual salad chain said it would begin dedicating its Outpost operations and teams "to support those on the front lines by delivering freee, fresh [Sweetgreen] salads and bowls to hospitals in the cities we serve." Sweetgreen's Outposts are kiosks in hospitals, offices and residential buildings where the company delivers freshly-made orders from its retail shops.

Updates: March 16

AT&T: suspending data caps

In a boon to workers and students stuck at home, the telecom suspended broadband data caps and overage fees for home internet customers.

Domino's: contact-free delivery arrives

The pizza chain and several other fast-food chains are offering "contact-less delivery" so that customers and delivery people can keep a safe distance from each other. Just pay in advance and tell them where to leave the food.

Google: building a coronavirus screening app

Clearing up some confusion from a recent announcement from President Trump last week, Google partner company Verily has just launched a tool designed to screen symptoms of COVID-19 and offer free testing. Users must use a Google account in order to use the tool, which could create privacy issues in the future.

LVMH: a perfume maker converts to hand-sanitizer production

LVMH, the French luxury giant responsible for brands such as Louis Vuitton, Givenchy, and Christian Dior, is now preparing production for a scarce item: hand sanitizer. The products will be delivered free of charge to public-health authorities in France in communities hardest hit by shortages.

Starbucks: new mental-health benefits for employees

In partnership with Lyra Health, Starbucks will begin offering 20 sessions with a mental-health therapist as well as unlimited access to self-care apps. This program aims to reduce wait time for users, as well as bringing on certified therapists trained in cognitive behavior therapy.

Updates: March 13

Uber and Lyft: help for the drivers

Two weeks of compensation are now being offered to drivers who have been quarantined or diagnosed with COVID-19.

EO Products is shipping 200,000 bottles of hand sanitizer spray to Lyft drivers in 10 major U.S. cities.

A sign posted at a Starbucks store in Tacoma, Wash., Thursday, March 5, 2020, tells customers that the coffee company is temporarily stopping accepting reusable cups, as part of efforts to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Starbucks: safer behind the counter

Starbucks adapts to the new coronavirus by moving items behind counters, banning reusable cups, and moving toward more drive-thru-only practices.

Starbucks is also offering “catastrophe pay” to employees affected by the virus. “You should never have to choose between work and taking care of yourself,” said Starbucks executive vice president Rossann Williams.

SXSW: softening the blow

A GoFundMe campaign has raised $7,725 so far for service workers impacted by the cancellation of this year’s SXSW festival.

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: home testing

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funds a new project to roll out at-home COVID-19 test kits in Seattle and beyond.

San Jose: help for renters

Sam Liccardo, mayor of San Jose, instituted an eviction-moratorium program that will temporarily ban evictions of renters affected by the economic impact of the pandemic. Tenants will need to notify landlords before their rent is due and provide paperwork proving their situation.

 

Mimi Hayes is a New York-based author, comedian, and assistant director of content at From Day One. You can read her work at mimihayes.com, check out her podcast "Mimi and The Brain," or find her first book, a comedic memoir about her traumatic brain injury on Amazon.