Written by Suprita Makh. Originally published on Twilio.com

COVID-19 and its effects have disproportionately impacted those experiencing acute crisis, and in response, countless nonprofit organizations have stepped up to provide the life-saving support people need as the pandemic has worn on.

In fact, nonprofit organizations across 60 countries sent proposals in response to a grant round Twilio announced in May, seeking to leverage communications technology to help with crises from physical and mental health to lack of access to housing and food.

Twenty incredible organizations reaching 1.9 million people in 34 countries will receive $2.5 million as part of the grant round, and their efforts offer powerful insight into the ways organizations can support those in need as the pandemic continues.




Our grant recipients offer three distinct areas of support to communities:

  • addressing systemic health and safety inequities;
  • meeting a surging demand for crisis support;
  • and addressing humanitarian crises compounded by COVID-19.

Health and safety inequities due to systemic racism

The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a spotlight on the impact of systemic racism on widespread health inequities in the US. Federal data shows Black and Latinx people have been three times as likely to get infected and twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as white people.

The disproportionately high burden of COVID-19 in Black and Latinx communities, compounded by the loss of income, health insurance, and even housing, has exacerbated the disparities in mental and physical health of Black and Latinx mothers. Even prior to COVID-19, Black women were three times more likely than white women to die of pregnancy-related complications in the US.

In response, grantee Jacaranda Health launched the COVID Moms Helpline, a crisis line for pregnant and postpartum people. The helpline provides support and security to expecting parents, with a focus on moms and pregnant parents in underserved communities that have unequal access to healthcare and might be struggling to navigate care during COVID. Perinatal educators and doulas on the line answer urgent questions and provide connection to local social, clinical, and mental health resources.

“Pregnancy can be isolating and stressful these days, and expecting parents are struggling to navigate care,” said Jacaranda Executive Director Nick Pearson. “We want to make sure that everyone feels they have someone to reach out to and receive holistic, empathetic support.”

Grant funds will support Jacaranda Health’s expansion of the COVID Moms Helpline to New York City and three additional geographies across the US.

Inequities due to systemic racism are not limited to healthcare. The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and too many others have sparked a necessary reckoning of systemic racism in the US.

During protests in June, more than 2,000 people were arrested over a five-day period in New York City. Through grantee Good Call’s crisis line, anyone who has been arrested can alert their loved ones and connect with free legal services 24/7. Low-income communities experience higher rates of arrest most of which are for low-level misdemeanors. Good Call aims to provide legal help to prevent damaging events that can have lifelong consequences.

Grant funds will support Good Call’s plans to reach new communities and expand their services by improving the stability and reliability of their hotline; growing the number of lawyers on their platform; and raising awareness of their services.

Surging demand for crisis support

Millions of people are experiencing many forms of escalating acute crises simultaneously due to COVID-19. Many face reduced access to basic needs such as food, shelter, and job security due to shelter-in-place ordinances and a rapid economic shutdown. These stressors have also compounded mental health crises. Demand for crisis line services has surged in this time of unprecedented need, creating new operational challenges.

RAINN, a national sexual assault hotline, reported a record 60,000 survivors of sexual assault and violence accessed their crisis line in May and June. For the first time, half of the victims receiving help from RAINN’s crisis line were minors, 67 percent of whom identified their perpetrator as a family member and 79 percent of whom said they were living with their perpetrator.

RAINN will use their grant funds to build and implement an upgraded version of their national hotline, with omnichannel solutions including chat and queue resiliency features to enable hotline staff to meet the needs of their callers remotely—and give people in the same home as the perpetrator a discreet way to reach out.

The Partnership to End Addiction has reported a nearly 50 percent increase in connections to help families overcome addiction. They’ll use grant funding to expand their current opioid use programming to include other substance abuse, and provide comprehensive support for people struggling with any substance—not to mention support families when their loved ones are undergoing treatment and early recovery at home.

Since shelter-in-place ordinances were implemented in March in various parts of the US, Trans Lifeline, the only hotline created for and run by trans people, has seen a 360 percent increase in calls about domestic violence and 250 percent increase in calls about intimate partner violence.

Their team will use grant funding to expand their programming and depth of care for trans people experiencing domestic and intimate partner violence, which will help support 20 percent more callers.


Humanitarian crises compounded by COVID-19

For the nearly 80 million people around the world that have been forcibly displaced due to violence and persecution, the pandemic has amplified uncertainty and fear.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC), Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (USA for UNHCR) are building and scaling crisis lines to provide live-saving information and resources to refugee communities in the U.S., Europe, South America, Asia, Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.

Humanitarian support has traditionally been provided in a face-to-face format. Global travel restrictions, shelter-in-place ordinances, and safety measures such as social distancing have hindered humanitarian organizations trying to provide their usual depth of support in healthcare, education, housing, legal support, counseling, food, and employment resources.

In response, organizations are pivoting to more digital services to continue to provide resources and services to the communities they serve.

NRC will use grant funding to set up digital service centers to ensure continuity of existing services like legal advice and continued education, as well as add new services such as COVID awareness and monitoring.

IRC will use grant funding to expand Signpost, its two-way messaging system, to Greece and Italy, as well as roll out a two-way communications and case management platform for refugees and asylees in the US.

USA for UNHCR is building an omnichannel hotline for refugees and asylees in Argentina, connecting them with healthcare, employment opportunities, and legal support.

In addition to the organizations mentioned above, Twilio.org is supporting Child Helpline International, Fast Forward, National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Domestic Workers Alliance, Polaris, Tarjimly, Tech Matters, The Trevor Project, Trek Medics International, United Ways of California, and Vibrant Emotional Health in this grant round.

At Twilio.org, we believe communication has the power to change lives. Technology plays a critical role in how we can support people in need. Each one of our grantees is pushing forward and amplifying their impact with a tech-first approach. We are incredibly honored to support and learn from this inspiring cohort of crisis line organizations.

If you’re a nonprofit organization, volunteer group, or social enterprise looking to scale your communications, visit our Impact Access Program to learn how Twilio.org can help.

Excited by the work of our grantees? Click through the links above to find donation or volunteer opportunities with each organization.