By Donald Earl, director of 211 call center, United Way of Northeast Florida
Every day, United Way 211 in Northeast Florida receives hundreds of calls from people in need.
Mothers searching for where to find free diapers for their children. Military veterans looking for a warm meal and bed. A grandmother seeking food to put on her family’s table. A hardworking person recently laid off trying to keep his lights on.
Voices of all ages, races and incomes are found on the other end of the line. They call in hope for a helping hand to lessen their struggle, support through a particularly tough time and, sometimes, just someone to talk to.
But this fall, our team at United Way 211 received a different call – a call from a woman named Hazel* who simply wanted to say two words: thank you.
“I am eternally grateful,” Hazel said. “Thank you for your service. God bless you all. I just can’t tell you how much I really appreciate this.”
This month at United Way of Northeast Florida, we’re giving our own thanks for all United Way 211 accomplishes for our community. We celebrate our 211 team’s efforts every February, which includes the official “211 Day” on Feb. 11.
United Way 211 is Northeast Florida’s vital, life-saving helpline that connects anyone in need to available community resources. Our database includes a vast list of organizations and resources like food pantries, shelters, mental-health clinics, financial management services, child-care resources, crisis assistance, employment services and much more.
And it’s all free and all available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Your local 211 – part of a national network of 211s across the country – covers nine counties here in Northeast Florida: Baker, Clay, Columbia, Duval, Hamilton, Nassau, Putnam, St. Johns and Suwannee. Last year, a record-breaking and heartbreaking year due to COVID-19, our community resource specialists answered more than 117,000 calls, connecting these callers to more than 93,000 referrals to community services.
Moreover, our 211 staff continues to serve on the frontlines of the pandemic, having answered 112% more calls in 2020 compared to 2019. Working remotely, we are fielding these calls in headsets from our living rooms. We’re virtually managing new initiatives such as care coordination for veterans and meal-delivery programs for seniors as we balance incoming calls.
Plus, in the midst of all of this doing, we’re also planning: new technology investments to reach more people, increasing staff so we can answer more calls, forging new partnerships to boost our current resource database and so much more.
And despite the challenges of 2020, our United Way 211 was re-accredited by the American Association of Suicidology. The re-accreditation process is also underway now with the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems.
This is just the beginning of a transformation of your United Way 211, and we can’t wait to share with you more good news.
We encourage you to stay connected with our progress by following United Way of Northeast Florida on social media, where we’re celebrating the work and team of 211 all month long.
While 2020 was a tough year for all of us, United Way 211 and our entire United Way of Northeast Florida family are proud to walk with you in our collective effort to help those who need help the most.
Just like Hazel, we are so grateful for your support. We’re hopeful for a better future ahead – and hope you’ll join us on this journey.
Because – as we like to say at United Way – change doesn’t happen alone.
*pseudonym used to protect identity