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How—and why—to send gifts during the coronavirus pandemic despite shuttered stores and Amazon limitations

April 4, 2020, 2:00 PM UTC

Something to add to the harder now-more-than-ever front: gift giving. Though health and safety should remain top of mind during the coronavirus pandemic, the side effects of social distancing can be quite harsh. Along with calendars filled with Zoom and FaceTime calls, and separate-but-together group workouts on balconies, gift giving can help bridge some of the physical and emotional distance people are experiencing. But with Amazon struggling to keep up with demand and many non-essential stores closed (temporarily or otherwise), what is a gift giver to do?

“Humans are an incredibly social species and one of the things that sets us apart is forming and maintaining relationships with others. Gift giving around holidays, birthdays, graduations, or weddings is a great opportunity to reinforce those relationships,” Daniel Farrelly, a psychology professor at the University of Worcester, told CNN last year.

Since social distancing takes the “social” out of relationships, gifts for people near and far—everybody seems far away when you can’t even go to a neighbor’s house—can help fill the void. And the COVID-19 pandemic is adding new reasons for gift giving in addition to the usual holidays and birthdays.

One gift, sent from one coronavirus hot spot to another, makes that clear.

Several weeks back, New Yorker Paolo Pierleoni asked his 30-year-old nephew who lives in Italy if there were any shortages. “He told me that the most difficult thing to find was wine. So I ordered some of my favorite reds [through an Italian wine site] and sent them his way. He did not say much—people from Urbino are notoriously quiet—he expressed his gratitude through emojis, a language I do not comprehend.”

But traditional reasons apply as well. Portland, Maine-based Megan Roy lives hundreds of miles away from her now-three-year-old nephew in New Hampshire. As she started thinking about his birthday gift, she knew she wanted to stay local “to keep the local economy running as much as possible.” On Twitter, she found out that one of her favorite local retailers, Rockland, Maine-based Hello Hello Books, had come up with a fun twist on gifts to entertain people while quarantined: surprise boxes. Roy filled out a survey about her nephew and left the decisions up to the store’s booksellers.

The surprise package was “a fun new idea, and I had to do it,” Roy said. 

The key to sending gifts right now is patience—or ordering earlier than you typically would. Wait times might be longer for shipping, and smaller retailers—like Hello Hello Books—are posting notices on their websites when they’re backlogged. Depending on the location, some retailers small and large, like Target, are offering curbside pickup but since staying home helps flatten the curve, consider shipping directly from retailers anyway. The Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and the Surgeon General say there’s no evidence that COVID-19 is being spread through the mail, and the risk of it on packages is also very low

Another option: Buy from individual artists whose craft shows, gift shops, and usual tourism outlets have been shuttered. Search out art from areas the giftee loves, allowing them to travel via art, or search Etsy.

Prefer giving experiences? It’s still possible. Support theaters big and small by buying tickets for a far off in the future date. Or give the gift of an online class to take along with the person receiving the gift. (It’s not exactly like being there but a bit closer, at least.) Or, share a little piece of something straight from home, like some dried sourdough starter.

No matter the present of choice, don’t stress if something isn’t delivered in a timely manner. Instead, focus on the connection.

“It made me feel a bit closer to them in a moment of crisis. Despite being away for over 30 years now, you never get used to not being able to be there when your family is in need,” said Pierleoni.

More must-read retail coverage from Fortune:

Which stores are open—and closed—during the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.?
—How re-commerce players like Poshmark and eBay are adapting to the coronavirus
—How Nike is overcoming the coronavirus impact on its China business
—It may be a while before many of America’s stores open again
—Listen to Leadership Next, a Fortune podcast examining the evolving role of CEO
—WATCH: The greatest designs of modern times

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