Calls For Help Jumped 68%

The United Way 211 network saw unprecedented volume in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, with more than 18.5 million telephone calls -- a spike of 68% during a typical year, which normally sees 11 million phone calls.

Most calls, web chats, and text messages are from people looking for help meeting basic needs like housing, food, transportation, and healthcare. 211 can be accessed by telephone (2-1-1) or computer, at www.211.org

Altogether, United Way received 20 million requests through phone calls, text messages, chats and emails and made 27.8 million referrals to help those in need -- up almost 100% from 2019. The 211 program is a free and confidential service that helps connect people to resources, such as assisting with filing tax returns, emergency childcare support, or rides to vaccines.

Specifically, there were:

  • 7.2 million requests for COVID-19 information, testing, or vaccines;
  • 3.8 million requests for help with housing or connections made to address housing and homelessness, up 20%;
  • 3.7 million requests for help with food or resources to reduce hunger and food insecurity, an increase of 150% compared to 2019;
  • 2.3 million requests for help finding and accessing healthcare or connections made to healthcare information and resources, up 55% versus 2019;
  • 2.2 million requests for help paying utilities bills or connections to assistance paying utilities bills; and,
  • 900,000 requests for help finding mental health services and support.

Alexandria, Va.-based United Way Worldwide (UWW) estimates the cost to operate the 211 network to be about $300 million, according to a spokesperson, but it varies significantly by size, structure and geographic region. Some states, like Connecticut and Indiana, provide online dashboards that can show total calls and top requests, by category and ZIP code.

UWW recently launched a new public service announcement (PSA), “Guiding Light,” about the 211 service, in partnership with The Ad Council, Rockefeller Foundation and advertising agency Walton Isaacson.