Editorial: In this time of COVID, let’s transform Black Friday into something meaningful

Luis Bahena, left, and Ernie Jimenez make baked goods for sale at Homeboy Industries in downtown Los Angeles.
(Los Angeles Times)

The start of the shopping and giving seasons is upon us but cloaked in a pall this year. People are hurting all over the country and in many corners of the world. They’ve lost loved ones. They’ve lost jobs or income. They’re enfolded in pandemic brain fog and bowed down by worry and depression. At a traditional time of communing, many are isolated from friends and family.

For that matter, businesses, especially small local retailers, are hurting just as badly. They’ve been closed for long periods or forced to limit the number of people inside their stores. Besides, fewer people have money to spend there.

At the same time, some of the normal avenues of altruism aren’t in place this year, such as the giving trees at many company offices that allow employees to buy gifts for those in need. Others, such as volunteering to serve meals at a soup kitchen, seem just too risky for many people.


In other words, this year is the time to transform our notions of Black Friday, even for those of us who, damn the new coronavirus, feel ready to line up for deals and — properly masked, of course — brave the shopping aisles. Go ahead, shop your heart out. The retailers need the business; this year, that’s a form of giving as well. But for this one year, we could help lighten a dark period by doing the lion’s share of our shopping in small local stores and by channeling our busy holiday doings into gifts for others.

The needs are endless and seemingly so are the ways of filling them. Food banks are obvious targets; sending them a check is even better than donating cans because then they can buy what their clients can most use, and often at bulk discounts. L.A. Students Most in Need pays for food and supplies for Los Angeles Unified students and coronavirus testing expenses for when schools are ready to reopen. Or you could provide food centers with gift cards to give to the people who show up. Cards for nearby restaurants or small stores do double duty, both providing for the recipients and helping local businesses survive.

The familiar Spark of Love toy drive is still going on at many fire stations but under pandemic-adjusted rules. Toys are purchased through a registry rather than dropped off.

It’s a good year to give to hospitals that have faced higher expenses as well as greater safety risks to their staffs. In addition, consider arranging to sponsor a meal for the intensive care unit staff or other hospital personnel.

For that matter, most nonprofits need a boost this year. Many haven’t been able to hold their usual fundraisers. Give to the arts, to schools and environmental groups, whatever strikes your interest and speaks to your values.

Or, the United Way of Greater Los Angeles suggests, you could buy gifts from social enterprise groups, in which profits from sales go to benefit worthwhile causes, with the goods often made by those who benefit from the seller’s programs. Homeboy Industries is perhaps the best-known example, but there are several others worth considering, including Downtown Women’s Center, which describes its mission as serving and empowering homeless women; Skid Row Housing Trust, which features mosaic tile pieces made by homeless people; and Would Works, which teaches impoverished people woodworking skills, sells the products they make so that they can bring in income, and gives them job experience.

Others might prefer to give their time. LA2050, a civic activism group, has put out a volunteer list for this season that includes all kinds of work, from serving meals to tutoring in reading or engaging a student in creative writing. It also lists a group that matches a volunteer’s specialized skills with particular needs.

The social media site Nextdoor has a feature that allows people to volunteer to help their immediate neighbors by doing everything from yardwork to picking up groceries. Check in on a single parent and see how he or she is doing, or arrange regular calls or Zoom sessions with an elderly neighbor.

One day we’ll almost certainly be able to look back at this difficult time as a bad memory. But the memory can be sweetened by the knowledge that during a crisis, we stretched our hands out as far as we could to help one another.