“A lot of people in the United States are very proud of feeling self-sufficient and independent,” Alice Fothergill, a professor of sociology at the University of Vermont who has studied the human effects of natural disasters. “This is something that is definitely going to be very, very difficult.”
She said that people who feel ashamed about seeking help are often the ones who need it the most. In one study of women who had endured devastating floods in North Dakota, she found that working-class and middle-class women were the ones who despaired most about needing public assistance, because of a fear of a loss of status. They did not want to be seen as poor. They also engaged in techniques to make it clear — to themselves and others — that they were accepting charity reluctantly, such as offering to pay for donated items and refusing to refer to their government-supplied trailers as “home.”
Mr. Greenfield, of New York’s Met Council, said the scores of people approaching his charity for the first time are roundly apologetic: “They’re saying: ‘I’m sorry but can you help me? I’m sorry but I need food, I’m sorry but I need rent, I’m sorry but I need help.’”
For people of some means, deciding whether to file for benefits also involves second-guessing. Does the fact that others are in greater need mean that they should not apply, even if they are qualified?
Kirk DeWindt, 36, a personal trainer from Brooklyn Park, Minn. and a three-time contestant on “The Bachelor” television franchise, saw his business come to a halt after all in-person sessions had to be canceled. He has some savings, so when his mother urged him to apply for unemployment benefits, Mr. DeWindt hesitated.
“I’m in a more privileged situation than I would assume most that are filing,” he said. “So what do you do with that?” He decided he would file.
The anonymity of the internet has helped some charity-seekers get over any shame, with restaurant and other business owners setting up online fund-raising campaigns that keep their workers’ names private. On GoFundMe, some $120 million has been donated for campaigns related to the pandemic since the first week in March, a spokeswoman said. By comparison, that is more than four times as much as campaigns for the Australian wildfires raised in three months.