Better Business: Industries Band Together to Fight Coronavirus

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Cynthia Holt works on bagging protective masks for shipment in Warren, Mich., Thursday, April 23, 2020. General Motors has about 400 workers at the now-closed transmission plant in suburban Detroit. All over the country, blue-collar and salaried workers have raised their hands to make medical equipment as companies repurpose factories to answer calls for help from beleaguered nurses, doctors and paramedics who are treating patients with the highly contagious new coronavirus COVID-19. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
May 4, 2020
The coronavirus has impacted every aspect of the world, from how Americans shop and socialize to how they travel and work. Businesses are experiencing unprecedented disruptions in day-to-day operations, whether from social distancing requirements or changing attitudes towards spending. 
In spite of the challenges, companies across a wide swath of industries have found ways to give back to communities in their time of need. Here's how several industries have reallocated their resources to give back:
AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY
General Motors and Ford have launched ambitious efforts with medical device manufacturers to ramp-up the production of sorely needed ventilators, respirators, and face masks. Ventilators, in particular, have been in severe short supply as hospitals across the country have dealt with a crush of cases of COVID-19 cases. 
GM, the first to publicly acknowledge such an effort, has partnered with Ventec Life Systems to start making 10,000 ventilators a month. Ford is meanwhile working with GE Healthcare and Airon to churn out as many as 30,000 ventilators a month. And Tesla is working with Medtronic to build ventilators at the electric-automaker's factory in New York. 
GM and Ford, which like Tesla have had to idle their factories to help slow the spread of COVID-19, are also building transparent face masks for medical workers. 
The efforts have faced challenges: President Trump, for example, blindsided GM with a series of attacks accusing the automaker and its chairman and CEO, Mary Barra, of misleading federal officials — when, in fact, it appears that Trump may have simply misunderstood the company's ventilator proposal. Tesla CEO Elon Musk also came under fire for touting his donation of 1,000 ventilators to California, which turned out to be CPAP machines that, while technically considered ventilators, aren't the type that most medical centers are seeking. 
— Alan Neuhauser
ALCOHOL
A global pandemic hasn't killed thirsty Americans' appetites for booze. Alcoholic beverage sales are booming as people, faced with plenty of time at home to kill, stock up to pass the time, CNN reported.
The same can't be said for many of the bars and restaurants that typically sell the stuff — and  industry giants want to help. Bacardi, Diageo, Tito's Vodka, and Molson Coors are among the companies that have announced campaigns  to raise money for struggling drinking establishments and their now largely unemployed workforce.
"During this time of uncertainty, these donations will go straight to helping the individuals who serve us, and we want them to know that there is help and support when they need it most," Jon Pageler, EVP of corporate relations at Diageo NA, said in a statement.
Diageo North America and its various brands pledged close to $2 million, about half of which came from the Guinness brand, to various funds that support struggling and jobless bartenders and restaurant workers. Up to $200,000 of that will come from whisky brand Crown Royal which launched a social media campaign that pledges to donate on behalf of anyone who raises a virtual glass and tags #generosityhour.
Bacardi, which owns brands like Grey Goose and Patron, launched the #RaiseYourSpirits campaign to raise up to $3 million in relief for various food industry organizations like the James Beard Foundation and the Restaurant Workers' Community Foundation. That's on top of $1 million already pledged by Patron.
Tito's Vodka also announced plans to donate $2 million to various organizations focused on assisting the service industry.
Molson Coors pledged $1 million to United States Bartenders' Guild, which aims to assist bartenders and service industry professionals.
These larger donations only add to broader coronavirus-fighting efforts by smaller breweries and distilleries across the globe, some of which are trying to leverage their manufacturing capabilities to produce and donate much-needed hand sanitizer to health care professionals.
— Chloe Aiello
CANNABIS 
Cannabis companies may have been left out of the federal stimulus plan — but that hasn't stopped many from rising to assist in the fight against coronavirus.
"As a cannabis company, we are used to the short end of the stick," said Dan Zaharoni, CEO of cannabis multistate operator From the Earth. "As horrific as this crisis is and as much as we hope it ends soon, I think it has also given us an opportunity to show how mainstream our industry is … and that we are taking action as a responsible steward of the resources and as a good neighbor in our community."
California-based From the Earth is one of many cannabis companies leveraging its manufacturing capabilities and connections to chip in on the fight against coronavirus, despite a challenging year for the cannabis industry.
From the Earth allocated equipment and resources in its manufacturing facility in Desert Hot Springs, California, to make hand sanitizer for local hospitals and first responders. The multistate operator is currently producing about 20 to 25 gallons of FDA-approved sanitizer per day in the hopes of distributing about 100 gallons of sanitizer per week to hospitals and police departments across California and Michigan.
New England Treatment Access (NETA), a Parallel subsidiary which operates several Massachusetts-based dispensaries, partnered with more than a dozen cannabis companies to manufacture and donate hand sanitizer. Together, the group hopes to donate some 5,000 gallons of hand sanitizer weekly to Massachusetts hospitals, even though the state has designated adult-use cannabis nonessential, taking a substantial bite out of sales. 
"It is our mission to help improve the health and wellness of the people we serve. While this initiative is outside of what we typically do… it's certainly something that we can do in this very very unique time to supplement those efforts especially at a time we are so restricted in terms of what we can offer," said Amanda Rositano, regional president for Parallel Massachusetts.  
Multistate operator Cresco Labs partnered with 90 restaurants across eight states in which it operates to deliver as many as 650 meals to its workforce daily. It's Cresco's push to protect its workers' health while also supporting an industry that has been decimated by social distancing measures and forced closures in many states. The company has also taken to hiring laid off service industry workers as it attempts to maintain a robust workforce to support its essential operations.
"It is a way to show how our industry can be essential and how people can depend on it. It's also a way we can support our local communities and work with regulators to show them how important this industry is," Cresco Labs spokesperson Jason Erkes said.
Sublime Canna is employing a similar approach, hiring out-of-work temps, in Oakland, California.
Vape and accessories company Cloudious9 donated much-needed infrared thermometers to the San Francisco Fire Department and has leveraged its supply chain and connections abroad to help agencies source scarce personal protective equipment.
Cannabis extracts company Moxie donated 300 gallons of hand sanitizer to St. Francis Hospital Group in Southern California, as well as distributing hand sanitizer and homemade masks to dispensary partners, staff, and delivery customers. The company said it is in talks to produce hand sanitizer and masks at cost for larger hospital groups.
The coronavirus pandemic is just the latest blow for the cannabis industry, which has struggled after a particularly brutal year. Having disrupted most global industries in various ways, the pandemic has brought both victories and losses for the nascent cannabis industry. 
When San Francisco became the first locality to designate cannabis businesses as "essential" services, sparking a wave of similar action across cities and states, the industry celebrated. Retail shops and delivery services also noted surges in demand in advance of lockdown measures as cannabis patients and enthusiasts alike rushed to stock up. 
But when it came to federal assistance, the cannabis industry, which is still federally illegal, did not qualify for disaster relief perks like Small Business Administration-funded loans. The snub hasn't, however, discouraged cannabis companies from contributing in various ways to the fight against coronavirus as a gesture of thanks and support for their local communities, first responders and those most impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
"As cannabis entrepreneurs, we are very lucky to get the support from our communities and local governments," From the Earth's Zaharoni said. "We want to give back. We want the communities that we are operating in to understand we are a vital part of their ecosystem, and when they are in need we are going to be there for them." 
— Chloe Aiello
MEDIA AND ADVERTISING
With people social distancing and working from home, TV viewership and streaming has increased dramatically. During the week of March 16 — when California and New York began their stay-at-home and "New York on Pause" orders respectively — viewership totalled 156.1 billion minutes of content, more than twice as much time as the year prior. 
With so many eyes on the screen, it became an opportunity to share factual information about the coronavirus pandemic with the American public. The nonprofit Ad Council worked with the White House, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Health and Human Services to create public service announcements. 
Media companies including ABC/Walt Disney Television, Charter Communications, Comcast, Fox Corporation, National Association of Broadcasters, NBCUniversal, Verizon Media, ViacomCBS, and WarnerMedia have donated broadcast, radio, and digital ad inventory to help get the messages out. 
In addition, NBCUniversal worked with the Ad Council and the White House to create Spanish and English language ads. Likewise, ViacomCBS used its franchises to spread the messages, including a kids and family-focused campaign featuring SpongeBob SquarePants. The Atlantic's creative division and iHeartMedia also helped develop and share messages about social distancing and other relevant information. 
CNN, BBC, and Euronews also donated $50 million worth of advertising inventory to public health institutions like the World Health Organization.
Top Comcast executives, including chairman and CEO Brian Roberts, Comcast Cable CEO Dave Watson, NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell, and Sky CEO Jeremy Darroch, will donate their salaries to coronavirus relief charities until the end of the crisis. The company is also earmarking over $150 million to help its employees and workers. WarnerMedia committed $100 million to help those impacted by film and TV production delays due to the outbreak. Its DC Comics division donated $250,000 to help comic book retailers through this time. Netflix has also created a $100 million fund, with the majority of the money going to help production workers who are out of work at this time. 
Disney Parks also donated more than 100,000 N95 masks and more than 150,000 rain ponchos to serve as personal protective equipment for medical professionals, as well as surplus food to food banks. 
Other companies are using their marketing departments to promote coronavirus advice, as well as encourage positive attitudes. Uber has been pushing a stay-at-home message on TV and on its app by thanking people for not using its service. Dove updated its "Real Beauty" campaign to feature frontline medical workers, highlighting that "courage is beautiful." Meanwhile, Jeep reused parts of its "Groundhog Day" Super Bowl ad to remind people to stay off the road. 
— Michelle Castillo
SOCIAL MEDIA AND TECHNOLOGY
Social media and technology companies are finding ways to give back to the communities that use them through donations and other projects. 
Apple donated $15 million and is matching its employees coronavirus relief donations. The tech giant is also giving proceeds from sales of PRODUCT(RED) crimson-colored versions of its devices to a COVID-19 fund, focused on "provid[ing] critical support in health systems."
In addition, Apple developed an iOS app and website to help people screen themselves for coronavirus symptoms and also partnered with Google to create a coronavirus infection tracking system on iOS and Android devices, which will share data via Bluetooth and through select health organizations apps. 
Google updated its search engine to promote factual information at the top of coronavirus-related searches. It also pledged $800 million in coronavirus relief, most of which comes in the form of advertising space for public health organizations and small and medium-sized businesses. 
Microsoft, Amazon, and other Seattle-based businesses created the COVID-19 Response Fund, alongside Starbucks, Alaska Airlines, United Way of King County, King County, and the City of Seattle. The fund, which is run by the Seattle Foundation, has raised more than $20 million so far and will work with public health organizations and nonprofits. Microsoft is also using its projects like AI for Health to aid in coronavirus research, and has donated $20 million specifically to this cause. It also is using its healthcare bot to focus on coronavirus cases and using its campus dining resources to help feed families. 
Amazon is working on developing widespread coronavirus testing and created a $25 million fund for partners and seasonal associates facing financial hardship or quarantine, including delivery drivers. It also hired 100,000 people since March and is adding 75,000 more jobs. Pay for hourly employees was increased $2 an hour in the U.S. It also doubled regular pay for all overtime hours. 
Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey pledged $1 billion of his Square equity towards coronavirus relief. The fund, named Start Small, has already distributed money to America's Food Fund, Mayor's Fund LA to help domestic abuse victims, and Doctors Without Borders among others. 
Snapchat developed an augmented reality filter to let people donate to the WHO's COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, which is used for patient care, research, and medical supplies. Earlier, it added filters to promote social distancing and mental health tools to aid its users through this time. Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann worked with experts from Harvard, MIT, University of Pennsylvania, and Weizmann Institute of Science to develop the How We Feel app. The app helps collect self-reported information on COVID-19 symptoms, so authorities can make more informed decisions on virus containment and spread in almost real-time. Pinterest also blocked coronavirus-related searches to restrict misinformation spread. 
— Michelle Castillo
FINTECH
Financial services companies are doing their part to help Americans during this time of crisis. 
PayPal-owned Venmo is dropping $20 surprise payments in users' accounts for their acts of kindness. 
"As Venmo's platform has continued to grow and evolve, we've seen our Venmo community come together to support each other amidst COVID-19 with payments of goodwill," a spokesperson told Cheddar.
The popular person-to-person payments app informally launched the #VenmoItForward campaign to recognize those acts of kindness. Twitter users have been sharing their experiences of sending money to healthcare workers on the coronavirus frontlines for coffee and wine (or anything they want) and receiving surprise $20 payments from Venmo in return. 
"We're inspired by the way you're using Venmo to support others during this difficult time," the message reads. "Here's a little something to help you do even more. Encourage others with #VenmoItForward."
A Venmo spokesperson told Cheddar it's selecting users at random and that there's no timeline on the program for the time being. 
Meanwhile, Chime, one of the bigger U.S. digital banking companies, helped its eight million customers their stimulus paychecks early by fronting the money itself.
"We think the aggressive action taken by the government is awesome, and we applaud it, but consumers need faster access to that money to pay their bills," Chime CEO Chris Britt told CNBC. 
Lending and payments companies have been working closely with the U.S. Treasury and the Small Business Administration to deliver stimulus checks to American small businesses and consumers. Chime's effort is one of the only by a consumer-focused non-lender banking company.
Finally, Propel, the fintech company that makes the Fresh EBT app for managing food stamps and other benefits, has partnered with GiveDirectly, a nonprofit that gives cash to the extreme poor, to deliver cash to families impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
GiveDirectly typically works in prominent and often rural regions of deep poverty like Uganda or Kenya, going door-to-door to sign people up for a no-strings-attached cash opportunity. But now it's focusing its efforts now on the Bay Area, New York City, Las Vegas, and Seattle, though with social distancing, employees are unable to knock on people's doors. By partnering with Propel, GiveDirectly can target people in the hardest hit areas of the Fresh EBT app's user base.
"We work with Propel to identify zip codes or profiles we want to reach out to," said Joe Huston, managing director of GiveDirectly. "They, within the Fresh EBT app to manage your food stamps, show a banner that says 'you may be eligible for support.' They click on the banner, fill out their information, and consent to be part of the program."
The Fresh EBT app has two million users. There are about 38 million in the U.S. that receive SNAP benefits.
GiveDirectly also began its COVID-19 relief by giving 200 households $1,000 each, but how many additional households it can reach relies on donations. 
— Tanaya Macheel
* Additional reporting by Hope King
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