United Way 2-1-1 Connects Central Alabama never takes a day off to help people in need

United Way 2-1-1 Connects Central Alabama. Photo courtesy of United Way of Central Alabama.

Falling on hard times happens when you least expect it. You lose your job and can’t pay the rent or the electric bill. You need shelter after a storm or tornado damages your home. There is a crisis in your life, and you just need someone to talk to. You desperately need help. That’s when you call the United Way 2-1-1 Connects Central Alabama.

In an interview with United Way 2-1-1 Connects Central Alabama Director, Shakeitha Tatum, this is how she described the service. “It’s where you call when you are facing a situation and you just don’t know where to start.”

2-1-1, a nationwide program that started in 1997, was established in Alabama in 2002. It connects people in need, who don’t know where to start, to social services, nonprofits and agencies.

A free information and referral service, United Way 2-1-1 Connects Central Alabama includes a database of over 800 resources for health and human services. The 2-1-1 Connects Central Alabama program serves a six county region (Jefferson, Shelby, Blount, St. Clair, Walker, and Cullman).

Graph courtesy of United Way of Central Alabama

“We are available 24 hours a day seven days a week, even on holidays,” said Tatum. “We are the front door, the connector for agencies and programs. Call 2-1-1, where providing great customer service is our goal.”

This past year, UWCA’s 2-1-1 program received over 37,000 calls ranging from basic human needs to physical and mental health resources.

How to connect with 2-1-1?
United Way of Central Alabama
Staff and volunteers connected hundreds of evacuees to resources and information as part of 2-1-1 Connects Central Alabama disaster response during Hurricane Irma in September 2017. Photo courtesy of United Way of Central Alabama.

There are three ways to connect to 2-1-1:

Call – 2-1-1

Text – 888-421-1266

Chat – Visit the Chat with Us link

Example how 2-1-1 works

Here is a typical local example how 2-1-1 works on a daily basis.

Recently, a Pinson woman in her mid-40’s was in desperate need of food. She had no money or working kitchen appliances in her home. She called 2-1-1 hoping for a solution to her problem. Within three minutes, the 2-1-1 specialist provided her with resources so she wouldn’t have to go hungry one more day. Those resources included Serving You Ministries, Bethel United Methodist Church, The Salvation Army, Catholic Center of Concern and The Ministry Center at Green Springs.

One stop shop

According to Tatum, United Way’s 2-1-1 Connects Central Alabama is housed at the same location as the Crisis Center. When they receive a crisis call, a crisis worker is right there to take over to assist a caller in need.

United Way’s 2-1-1 is also the number to call to access United Way’s Free Tax Assistance program. Each year over 3,000 individuals use this free service to file their taxes. By calling 2-1-1, individuals can schedule appointments free tax preparation year round.

Frontline during disasters

2-1-1 is also an important resource when disasters hit not just locally, but for the entire South. When Hurricane Irma hit Florida and the east coast, 2-1-1 received calls from neighboring Florida and Georgia. United Way’s 2-1-1 service taps into a statewide resource database helps find people shelter, food and other resources in the desperate times. It can be a lifeline.

Photo courtesy of United Way of Central Alabama
Making a difference

Shakeitha Tatum best sums up the importance of 2-1-1. “Before I began working at United Way, my background was in social work, and I had never heard about the 2-1-1 program. Today, when I receive calls from people who are in need and don’t know where to go, I am so grateful that I can connect them to resources that range from dental care to food pantries. It is a rewarding feeling, to help people through a personal conversation and connect them to the services they need.”

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Pat Byington
Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.
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