All day every day, United Way of Central Alabama (UWCA) is here for our community. Just dial 2-1-1* for proof. UWCA’s 2-1-1 Call Center is a 24-hour directory hotline providing neighbors with referrals to health and human services, including immediate needs such as food, affordable housing or utility payments, throughout Alabama. Each call to 2-1-1 is answered by a friendly Community Resource Specialist, a personal touch that’s integral to the experience. For many callers, speaking with a real person who can guide them to the resources to help them is a game-changer.
“You can call friends or family, and they can listen, but they can’t always help,” said Shakeitha Tatum, Director of UWCA’s In the past few weeks, the phones have been ringing non-stop at the 2-1-1 Call Center. To put the increased call volume into perspective, 2-1-1 received 42,159 calls for the year in 2019, or an average 115 calls per day. By comparison, just since March 1st of this year, the call center has answered 11,757 calls, averaging to 394 calls per day. That’s a 300% increase!
Answering so many calls hasn’t been easy, but the staff at UWCA has stepped up to the task. Like the rest of Central Alabama, UWCA’s operations have evolved in light of the pandemic, and some employees are spending parts of their workdays answering 2-1-1 calls. Others still are volunteering outside of work hours to make sure our community is connected with the resources they need.
“We appreciate the generosity of our staff and partner agencies so much, and we couldn’t manage it without their help,” said Karla Lawrence, Senior Vice President of Community Initiatives. “2-1-1 is a critical resource for our community when a disaster happens, and with limited funding available for this service, it’s important to have volunteers available to assist as the needs increase.”
Unfortunately, many of these calls have been for rental or utility assistance, which isn’t always the easiest need to be filled. Even during normal business hours, agencies and programs providing rental or utility assistance are limited. The COVID-19 Crisis further compounds this issue through both an increased demand for such programs as well as operational issues partners may face.
“Our partners have been affected, too,” said Tatum. “They may be closed or have alternate hours.
And while resources such as UWCA’s Community Crisis Fund are working hard to support these partners, it’s not an immediate fix.
“In most circumstances, even though there are funds to benefit those, the process of passing the funds down to the programmatic level, where people can directly pay for rent or utilities, hasn’t run its course yet,” said Sims.
Community Service Response Center. “That’s why we’re here. 2-1-1 is there for people when they don’t know where else to go. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, that’s more and more people.”
Because of this, community is more important than ever. The 2-1-1 Call Center is asking the public to add to its database of partner agencies and programs by sharing resources operating during the Coronavirus pandemic.
“Our database is our biggest resource,” said Tatum, “and building it is a team effort. We couldn’t do what we do without the community.”
You, too, can help 2-1-1 and its partners by donating to United Way of Central Alabama’s Community Crisis Fund, which has already awarded more than $150,000 to area nonprofits to support both their programs and operations. To learn how your nonprofit can apply for these funds, click here.
*Please note: some cell phones may not be able to directly dial 2-1-1. If this is the case, please dial 1-888-421-1266 to reach the call center.