It’s a little noticed free service for people in the 23 counties surrounding the Kansas City area until they face any of life’s desperate needs.
That could include finding help with utility bills, rent assistance, housing or filling a family’s table with food. The United Way of Greater Kansas City 2-1-1 line has done all of that and a lot more.
This week on March 9 the invaluable community service celebrated its 10-year anniversary of providing assistance to people in need. It has given help to more than 1.2 million callers since it began.
It took more than three years for the United Way to secure regulatory approval from Kansas and Missouri, negotiate with several telephone companies and raise more than $850,000 from area companies and foundations before 2-1-1 could start. But it proved to be worthwhile with more than 81,000 calls being answered in the first year.
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United Way 2-1-1 started with three full-time staff and six part-time workers, answering calls from Andrew, Bates, Buchanan, Caldwell, Cass, Clay, Clinton, DeKalb, Henry, Jackson, Johnson, Lafayette, Platte, Pettis, Ray, and Saline counties in Missouri and Doniphan, Franklin, Johnson, Leavenworth, Linn, Miami and Wyandotte counties in Kansas. Today 2-1-1 has a staff of 27, including 23 in the call center.
The United Way of Greater Kansas City’s annual fundraising campaign for 2015 took in $35.26 million donated by 60,000 people in 1,600 companies and organizations. It surpassed the $35 million in contributions for 2014.
That’s exceptional because the donations to the United Way finance about 170 agencies and about 300 programs. That includes helping to keep the 2-1-1 lines on and fully staffed.
The start of that telephone help service couldn’t have been more timely. It became an important resource for people as the Great Recession was beginning, and they needed help after job losses and assistance just to make ends meet.
United Way 2-1-1 additionally helps veterans and senior citizens through a full time “veterans navigator” and an “older adults specialist.” Their needs are often different but no less important.
Over the years, United Way officials have noticed that the average call time with area residents has increased, showing that 2-1-1 operators are doing a better job of assessing and directing people to the resources they need. Basic needs of utility assistance, housing and food continue to top the list of why people seek the help of the service.
What’s good is people know where to turn now when they need assistance. The service is what a caring community should provide.