United Way’s 211 Helpline has been a source of information, comfort, and hope to callers during the COVID-19 public health crisis. In March 2020, both Westchester and Putnam counties designated the 211 Helpline as the public’s point of information for COVID-19 related issues. The 211 Call Center in White Plains answered 59,572 calls between March 1 and August 31, 2020. Most calls were not about physical health or testing questions about COVID-19. Instead they were related to food or financial assistance, housing issues, or mental health issues.
For instance, a woman called from White Plains, she was sitting in a park with her husband and two young children. Her family was homeless and the shelter they were staying at told them to leave and gave them the number to a shelter in Mt. Vernon to call. The Mt. Vernon shelter told them that the husband needed his birth certificate in order to stay there. Since he did not have a way of getting that document, the family was told that there is nothing that can be done for them. The 211 Call Specialist contacted the Westchester Department of Social Services manager, provided the details of the call and was able to get this family assistance.
Mrs. O from Mahopac is a recent kidney transplant recipient who called in need of food. She asked if she could confide in the 211 Call Specialist. “I am eating my service dog’s food to take my medication,” Mrs. O admitted. The call specialist took her information and told her that someone will call her back. The situation was shared with United Way of Westchester and Putnam, which arranged for the caller to have groceries delivered to her that day, as well as for her to be enrolled in the Heroes and Homebound Hot Meals program and the Putnam Emergency Food Distribution.
“During the pandemic, United Way and the 211 Helpline helped me get food and groceries delivered when I could not leave my home,” said Mrs. O. “They are godsends for sending meals and groceries to me.”
A caller was concerned about a neighbor’s mental health; the neighbor was traumatized from 9/11 and was emotionally fragile. The viral outbreak has her “freaking out” a bit and was using language that the caller had concerns about. The caller does not feel the person is suicidal but was worried that the person may hurt themselves. The 211 Call Specialist provided options to the caller- the phone number to the NYS Mental Health hotline and suggested that her neighbor could also call 211 directly anytime.