Feb.11 is 2-1-1 Day—how the 3-digit number from United Way helps thousands in Alabama


2-1-1 UWCA, 2-1-1 day, call operators answering phones
The team is connected to thousands of ways to help you. Photo via United Way of Central Alabama

In preparation for 2-1-1 Day on February 11, we decided to learn how three little numbers make a huge impact in Alabama. United Way of Central Alabama’s (UWCA) 2-1-1 line, a 24/7 free service, is an invaluable asset when we come across hard times.

Small but powerful

The 2-1-1 Call Center is a free information and referral service directing people toward resources when they’re facing a difficult situation.

It guides residents in need of everything from food banks, clothing and shelter to emotional support like crisis intervention or counseling. Find a full list of the many ways 2-1-1 can help.

Shakeitha Tatum, Director of UWCA’s Community Service Response Center, describes her team as, “small but powerful.” They work around the clock, even through holidays, to assist statewide needs.

Instead of having an automated recording list off options, you actually have access to a real individual.

“One of the greatest things about the 2-1-1 Call Center is they get a live person on the other end of that phone who truly cares.”

Shakeitha Tatum, Director of Community Service Response Center, United Way of Central Alabama

211 Connects Alabama encompasses nine different call centers with United Way of Central Alabama’s being the largest. The centers are able to connect with each other, take each one another’s calls and have access to all the information about resources within the area. This ability becomes particularly helpful in times of natural disasters, such as Hurricane Sally.

How does a call sound? 📞

woman in gray hoodie smiling
Pick up the phone, dial 2-1-1, get help–it’s that easy! Photo via Unsplash

Dial 2-1-1 and a call specialist answers—ready to offer help. The operator will ask for your zip code so they can ensure they’re sending you toward the nearest set of resources.

The job of 2-1-1 operators is to not only assess the immediate request of the caller, but also listen for what else the person may need. For example, someone might ask where they can find a free meal because they spent their paycheck on the power bill.

The operator will give them three places or ways to find food. Then, they’ll circle the conversation back around to give them options for paying the utility bill, even though it’s not the original reason for the call.

“We don’t ever want them to be in a position where they have to choose between food and their utility bill.”

Shakeitha Tatum

Shakeitha always reminds the caller that the call is confidential, and that she is a person just like them and that she lives in their community. It allows the person on the other end of the line to know the operators understand your circumstance more than you realize.

Four ways ways to ask for help, not just on 2-1-1 Day

In addition to dialing 2-1-1, you can connect via UWCA’s website to chat online. Or, you can send a confidential text to a call specialist at 888-421-1266.

These options give an outlet to those who are in an uncomfortable position or public area to still receive help.

Most recently, UWCA launched an online database where you’re able to search through their site for educational services, family support and more.

  1. Call: 2-1-1
  2. Text: 888-421-1266
  3. Chat: Online
  4. Search: Database

Pushing through the pandemic

DSC 4066 Feb.11 is 2-1-1 Day—how the 3-digit number from United Way helps thousands in Alabama
UWCA has been busier than ever during the pandemic. Photo via United Way of Central Alabama

2020 was a particularly busy time, with the Center receiving around 54,000 calls. Shakeitha said they usually receive about 3,000 calls a month, but when the pandemic hit in March, that number more than doubled to 7,000.

A higher call volume brought on more trained volunteers who led callers toward the help they thought they’d never need.

“There is no way we could do it without our UWCA staff family’s help.”

Shakeitha Tatum

Since the pandemic brought an invasion of issues none of us faced before, many people calling into the 2-1-1 line were totally unfamiliar with asking for help.

Luckily, the team at UWCA was able to assist them through the process and listen to every issue.

“It takes a lot for someone who has never called in to say, ‘I need help.’ We have to be extremely sympathetic.”

Shakeitha Tatum

Part of that sympathy comes from the UWCA operators affirming they are experiencing these life challenges right along with the caller.

2-1-1 Day looks like any other for this team

2-1-1 UWCA. 2-1-1 Day
Director Shakeitha Tatum (pictured above) says 2-1-1 day will function like any other for the busy team at the Call Center. Photo via United Way of Central Alabama

Although February 11 will celebrate all the hard work the Call Center operators do for Birmingham and beyond, it won’t look any different for the team. They’ll be doing what they do best—aiding people from all walks of life get the help they need.

“We will not be taking the day off, we will be taking the day on.”

Shakeitha Tatum

It’s not just 2-1-1 day! Learn more about how 2-1-1 can help you today through their website, Facebook and Twitter.

Looking for help with taxes this season? United Way of Central Alabama has a free service.

Sponsored by:

Irene Richardson
Irene Richardson
Articles: 385