2-1-1 helpline delivers food to neighbors in need during pandemic

In April 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kevin Greer found himself homebound in his downtown Canton apartment, without a way to buy groceries.

“That was a really rough time,” he said. “Living on the 6th floor of my building, it was like a prison cell. [I] was stuck. Even getting the mail is a nightmare.”

Alone and running out of food, he called United Way’s 2-1-1 Helpline.

“If someone is in need, 2-1-1 should be their first call for help,” said United Way 2-1-1 Manager Brittany Trask, MSW, LSW.

United Way’s 2-1-1 is a free informational & referral confidential service that connects those in need to local social service programs and resources for rent, food, utility assistance, health care and more. It’s available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

“When they call, they are going to get a real person, who’s caring, compassionate, empathetic and trained to assist you with whatever need, crisis or circumstance you may be in,” Trask said.

After hearing his situation, a 2-1-1 operator connected Greer to a free United Way program in partnership with the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank that delivered 25 pounds of groceries right to his doorstep. He received a total of three deliveries that kept him safe and healthy through the duration of the pandemic.

“[The delivery] gave me a smile on my face, which is surprising,” said Greer. “I just appreciate it. It’s just a blessing from the bottom of my heart. In times of peril everyone needs a savior. It’s just a blessing in disguise. I didn’t even think someone would be that nice to me … It was just fantastic.”

Trask said Kevin’s story is a familiar one. She heard from many families who were struggling with food insecurity.

“What stands out to me during this time is the amount of need from individuals who have never been in a circumstance where they need to reach out for help,” she said. “The amount of people who were calling 2-1-1 and saying, ‘I don’t really know how to say this, but I can’t provide food for my kids right now.’”

In Stark County, 36,5120 households go to work each day, but still struggle to put food on the table each night. They earn an income above the federal poverty line, but still can’t afford basic needs like housing, food, transportation, child care and health care. When the pandemic struck, these families struggled.

“Tons of individuals who were waitresses or working in that type of field called in saying, ‘I worked at a restaurant and I just got told yesterday that I don’t know when I’m going to be able to come back to work.’ I heard that story time after time,” said Trask. “The amount of tears from people who are so humble in having to figure out how to ask for help for the first time in their life is very powerful.”

Between March 16, 2020 and June 12, 2020, United Way served 126 households and provided 6,876 meals to residents in Stark County through the 2-1-1 grant-funded food delivery program.

Trask said 2-1-1 saw significant increase in calls in March and April mostly pertaining to food insecurity, and it’s not clear when the need will slow thought the community.

“At this time, it’s hard to predict right now, because the world is unpredictable currently. It’s day by day,” she said.

UNITED we see hope and healing for our community

Even through hardship, our community remains resilient. With courage and compassion, we lift others up and offer the support our neighbors need. With your help, we can continue to fund vital programs and services for our community, like 2-1-1.

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