I’ve been working at United Way for almost four years now. In that time, I’ve heard lots of sad stories and have always known that the need does exist for the many health and human services that our partner agencies offer. However, when I took a visit to our 2-1-1 call center and heard some actual calls, I was moved to write about the experience.
We gathered in a small conference room, as the 2-1-1 manager connected the computer and audio equipment we’d be using to monitor the calls. We gathered like we do any other day for any other meeting. There were several people around a conference room table with a speakerphone in the middle. I don’t think anyone realized exactly how our emotions were about to be stirred.
The 2-1-1 manager had a laptop and projector setup so everyone in the room could watch the full process that an operator would go through during a call, as if sitting in front of the operator’s computer. As she clicked from one row to the next, the audio from each call was instantly piped into the conference room. Finally, she opened up a call that had just begun. It was a woman looking for someone who could help her get formula for her infant. She had already exhausted all of her WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) benefits for the month, yet still needed to feed her baby. Her voice was quiet and humble. All the while, you could sense the desperation and the worry in her voice as she answered the operators standard questions. Occasionally we could hear the child making the slightest of noises, which we assumed were hunger related.
He asked her what county she lived in, what her zip code was, and then verified that she was seeking help with purchasing infant formula. Everyone in the conference room was immediately entrenched in this call, and sympathetic to her issue. We all listened intently as the click click click of the operator’s keyboard was all that we heard for about ten seconds. Everyone was hoping that the 2-1-1 operator would come back with a long list of non-profits that offered free formula, and the mother’s problems would be solved.
The operator started off by suggesting the local Salvation Army; “I’ve already called there,” she said softly. He then listed a church and a local women’s shelter. He warned her though, since it was late in the month, most places would have already given out of any infant formula they had on hand. The call continued for about 15 minutes with the operator asking many more questions, trying to paint the clearest picture of this caller, and how badly she needed help.
Despite a database of thousands of agencies in the state, and a caring operator who spent as much time as the caller would give, looking for services, there was not a definitive answer for this young mother just trying to feed her child.
After she accepted the harsh reality, and ended the call with a quiet “Thank you anyway,” the conference room was full of people with mouths open in shock wanting to help this woman, but were only able to listen.
As we came away from roughly an hour and a half worth of listening to 2-1-1 calls, it was evident there are plenty of services and programs needed, more than ever, in our state. Even though there are literally thousands of nonprofits in North Carolina, and there are hundreds of thousands of caring individuals like you and me; situations like this occur on a daily basis in our state. Whether you support United Way or some other nonprofit program, your contribution is needed – today, more than ever.
No longer will I say to myself, “They’ll get the help they need from someone.” From now on, it’s “How can I make a difference in that person’s life, today?”
Want to hear a small sample of some of these calls? Check them out here, and see what I mean.