United Way 211 is a free, 24/7, 365-day information and referral resource that connects residents in Lucas, Ottawa and Wood County to various health and human services. It is a point of entry for people to connect to basic needs like food, shelter, utility assistance, and more! This is something that Google can simply not do.
Why not just Google it?
Recently, an excellent question was posed to us by someone who had just learned about the service. Instead of using 211, why not just use Google to find this information?
I thought about a project I had undertaken in my previous role as the director of a hunger-focused nonprofit. To better understand the needs of my food pantry patrons and how they were reaching us, I put myself in their shoes. I thought, “If I didn’t know about 211 and was trying to figure out how to get food, what would I do?”
So, I hopped on Google and started searching:
- “food pantry near me,”
- “free food toledo,”
- “toledo meals,”
- “how to get free groceries,”
- “where to go to get food.”
After searching, there were millions of results for me to choose from.
Next, I started working through the list, looking at all of the different agencies that came up, and I noticed the following:
- Food banks that I knew did not provide direct service to clients,
- Service providers not located in Toledo,
- Outdated information on pantry hours or pantries that have not been active in years.
And then, I start thinking about other things I know to be real barriers to people getting the help they need:
- Which of these nonprofits only serve people from the zip code they’re located in?
- Which pantries are located on a bus route if I don’t have a car?
- Which churches have a ramp to get into the building if I’m in a wheelchair?
- Which providers require a social security card to get service if I don’t have one?
And most importantly, how will I best solve this problem if I skipped breakfast this morning because there’s no food in the house, and I’m worried about what my kids will eat when they come home from school?
One can imagine feeling overwhelmed or frustrated or even that your situation is impossible in times of urgency, confusion, or panic. Often this needs to be remembered when talking about people in need. Whether they’re living in poverty, just lost a job, or struggling to afford the basic necessities. When you find yourself in a position where you need help, it’s probably more than just the immediate need.
211 Provides Wrap-around Support
When we talk about 211, we share why it’s better than Google. 211 is a local person talking to a community member with a database of information at their disposal to help find which resources fit best. The Community Resource Advisor is having a conversation about all the things an individual needs to know to get help from all of the incredible service providers in our community. 211 is a valuable resource for our community because anyone in Lucas, Ottawa or Wood County can call, text or chat online. Case Managers can search through a database with thousands of resources that can assist their clients.
When this happens, we become a community with an effective, single point of entry for individuals who need help navigating the health and human service landscape for themselves or someone they know.
Discover what 211 can mean to someone by visiting our 211nwo.org.