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Call for help 211 becomes helpline through United Way

Original Source: The Advocate Messenger

By Kendra Peek

Much like calling 811 before you dig or 911 for emergencies, people in central Kentucky can now call 211 for help with health and human services.

“Utility assistance, health care, food banks, transportation, even diapers,” said Polly Lloyd, director of 211 Development and Operations of the United Way of the Bluegrass. “Anything to do with people.”

Lloyd explained that the Federal Communications Commission set 211 aside for this purpose in the 1990s. In 2000, call centers were launched through Metro United Way in Louisville and United Way of Greater Cincinnati. United Way of the Bluegrass began theirs in 2005, which covered nine counties.

Last year, the United Way of the Bluegrass 211 line received about 28,000 phone calls about individuals needing assistance. The top needs requested on the free and private line are those found nationwide — food, housing, household items.

This year, they expect that number to grow thanks to an expansion.

“This year, we were given a grant through the department for aging and independent living, which helped us expand 211 to the entire Bluegrass Area Development District,” Lloyd said.

That includes the Heart of Kentucky United Way in Danville, the United Way of Franklin County and the Central Kentucky United Way, bringing 18 counties under the same call line.

“United Way’s 211 is a vital public communication vehicle covering a wide variety of local support services of which Heart of Kentucky United Way is proud to provide our communities,” said Stephanie Blevins, HKUW executive director. “211 is also an integral component of our county’s disaster-response infrastructure and has proven in other communities to alleviate misuse of 911 for non-emergencies.”

In Danville, AmeriCorps Vista’s Hannah Kroskie is helping bring providers onto the call list.

“Hannah will meet with local health and human service providers,” said Lloyd. Non-profit providers are generally already included, but for-profit providers have to meet a certain set of criteria.

“We have a very formal inclusion/exclusion policy. It takes a lot to be excluded,” Lloyd said.

Kroskie takes the information of those who meet the criteria, and it is entered into the database. When someone calls 211, the information recovery specialist will use the zip code to locate nearby services.

“We have highly trained information referral specialists that help you navigate through the maze of health and human services,” Lloyd said. That help is available in more than 120 languages.

People can also text their zip code to 898211 or can search via zip code at

Sometimes, said Katie Williams, vice president and marketing for the United Way of the Bluegrass, people don’t really know what all of their needs are.

“Sometimes they call for one specific need. The information recovery specialist is able to find out about other needs,” she said.

Lloyd echoed that, calling it a “holistic approach” to meeting needs, “or at least the most pressing ones.”

Sometimes, that requires resources outside the respective county, Williams said, which the specialist can seek out for the caller.

“This is a very valuable critical resource for people who have needs that are unmet or undermet,” Williams said.

If providers want to learn more, they can contact Lloyd at She can set up a demonstration and explain more about the program.

“We are a network and we do work in partnership,” Lloyd said. “It’s not just a United Way of the Bluegrass effort, it’s a community effort.”