Local Nonprofits Celebrate National 211 Day on February 11

Over the past two years, high numbers of people have had to ask for help – due to job loss, health struggles, and more. The pandemic brought unprecedented challenges to the Itasca area and the country at large.  

Fortunately, 211 was here to help.  

211 is a free, multilingual, and confidential information and resource referral line that reaches throughout the United States, supported by the national network of United Way organizations, including United Way of 1000 lakes. 

The local call center, known as First Call for Help, has been serving the community since 1974, making up to 7,200 referrals between residents and social services each year. Cre Larson, Executive Director of First Call for Help, credits the success of 211 to the collaboration with United Way and area nonprofit partners, who help source a comprehensive database of more than 40,0000 resources statewide. 

“Each and every day, someone in our community faces a difficult time, and it is not always easy to understand what’s available,” says Larson. “Whether they are seeking help for themselves or another person, our certified helpline specialists are there to answer the call 24/7 and connect them to the resources that best fit their situation.” 

For instance, a worker who has recently been laid off or had their work hours reduced might call 2-1-1, where a specialist can share information about unemployment benefits, job search options, food stamps, food pantries, mortgage or rent help, utility assistance, counseling, and other available resources. 

211 specialists are available 24/7, 365 days a year to provide personalized, one-on-one support to callers.

Last year, First Call for Help answered over 5,200 calls to 211, with mental health needs being the largest reason for callers reaching out, with those seeking help with housing making up the second-largest volume of calls. 

“A simple call to 2-1-1 is a solid starting point to learn about available resources, such as developmental screening for a child, home health care for a relative, or transportation needs,” says Kimberly Brink Smith, Executive Director of United Way of 1000 Lakes. “As an organization, the 211 resource helpline also provides us with data to help us stay informed about our community and various emerging needs.” 

On February 11th, 211 Day, United Way and First Call for Help will begin a two-week campaign to celebrate 211 and drive support for the meaningful work of this important asset in the community. 

“Donors play an important role in meeting our needs across the county, and your dollars, supporting nonprofits like First Call, are essential in getting the work done. Without you, we can’t complete the work,” says Larson. “Each day, the dollars you donate to United Way help the lives of families, individuals, elders, and students living here in the greater Itasca area.” 

 The campaign will conclude at midnight on February 25. To support the United Way 211 Fund, text LAKES to 26989 or visit uwlakes.org. Donations will help sustain the work of First Call for Help/211, which provides a critical lifeline for our neighbors in need across the Itasca area.  

About 211/First Call for Help
First Call for Help of Itasca County is a private, nonprofit community organization whose mission is to provide free, confidential, and non-judgmental crisis intervention, active listening, and information and referral services 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to the residents and agencies of North Central Minnesota. 

First Call for Help is one of three contact centers across the state with a shared database containing more than 40,000 resources. Greater Twin Cities United Way funds and operates the largest call center in the state. For more information on the other 2-1-1 call centers in Minnesota, visit 211unitedway.org.

Need Help?  

If you or someone you know is in need of assistance, you can reach First Call for Help 24/7, 365 days a year by dialing 2-1-1. Crisis specialists can also be reached by texting your zip code to 898211 (TXT211) or visiting firstcall211.net and using the chat button.