With people confined to their homes, dialing 211 can be invaluable, said representatives of agencies that support the call service.
The 211 service provides information on organizations that provide information on social services, including medical and financial needs stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. Dialing 211 can get people to the right place for help, said Jim Micsky, executive director for the Mercer County United Way.
“Having 211 services has been so great, you just can’t imagine how helpful it has been,’’ Micsky said.
Cost for the countywide service is $7,500, with United Way of Mercer County paying $7,250 and United Way of Grove City paying $250.
Created in 2000 by the Federal Communications Commission, the 211 line is designed to connect individuals and families with community agencies.
“They have the specialists that will be able to refer people to local organizations to help them address their needs,’’ said Kyle English, executive director for the Community Foundation of Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio.
With the pandemic quickly spreading, English said local agencies are gearing up to meet the anticipated need.
“We know there’s going to be an increased need for a lot of services in the weeks ahead,’’ he said. “This all is happening so fast.’’
The foundation is pitching in to help, with a grant to the Community Food Warehouse of Mercer County.
English said 211 helps the agencies plan for needs by collecting data from callers.
“We are hoping to be able to use this data in order to gauge which organizations are in need of funding,’’ he said. “For instance, if people in need of assistance are being referred to the Prince of Peace, then we can be proactive in terms of reaching out to them to provide funding.’’
For its part, the local 211 service, which operates out of Pittsburgh, has been readying itself to deal with COVID-19, said Shawn McGrogan, operations manager for the Pittsburgh region.
“This is obviously a challenge for everyone,’’ McGrogan said. “We have strongly partnered with agencies in providing a good service.’’
McGrogan said he didn’t know whether people have been calling 211 more frequently since the virus crisis began. But he added that people shouldn’t be nervous or intimidated in using the service.
“We’re here to help,’’ McGrogan said. “We’re the single point of contact we encourage everyone to use.’’
Micsky acknowledged the pandemic is creating fears among many, but said he has faith in the community.
“We in Mercer County are a resilient group,’’ he said.
“We do what we need to do.’’