United Way’s Mass 2-1-1 Emerges as a Critical Lifeline During the COVID-19 Pandemic

February 11, 2021

Katherine Provost, a Mass 2-1-1 call taker, answering questions from families in need.

BOSTON – Whether it is providing information to prevent evictions, connecting people to mental health resources, or helping to facilitate Covid-19 vaccination appointments, United Way’s Mass 2-1-1 hotline is available to help people in need. Today, February 11, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and United Way organizations across the state are recognizing the critical role that Mass 2-1-1 is playing to provide urgent health and human services resources to residents across the state.

Since its designation in March of 2020 as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ official resources and referral line for the Covid-19 crisis, Mass 2-1-1 has fielded over 224,000 calls for assistance – an average of 615 calls per day – more than double the number of calls for the same time the year before. 

“We’re proud that 2-1-1 has played such a central role confidentially connecting people to resources to help them meet their essential needs,” said Bob Giannino, President and CEO at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley. “The 2-1-1 call specialists not only answer questions, but they are also trained to take a deeper dive on how best to support the wider needs and challenges of the individual or family. 2-1-1 also provides us with important insights on the kinds of assistance people are calling about the most — data that can inform policy decisions on the availability of funding and other services.”

Mass 2-1-1 provides telephone and web information referral services for residents across the Commonwealth 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Trained 2-1-1 Information and Referral Specialists connect callers to thousands of human service organizations. This includes providers for food programs, housing and emergency shelter, elder care, physical and mental health services, childcare resources, drug and alcohol services, utility assistance, victim services, and at times, is activated when needed for emergencies and disasters, such as storms or during the Merrimack Valley gas leak crisis.

In the Greater Boston, North Shore, Merrimack Valley and Greater Attleboro/Taunton regions, 45% of the requests (74,545) were for Covid-19 assistance, 10.6% (17,452) were for help addressing mental health and substance abuse needs, and 10.1% (16,595) were for support with housing, shelter or rental assistance. Assistance with childcare and food insecurity round out the top five reasons residents have called Mass 2-1-1 over the past year.

“Dialing 2-1-1 from a landline or cell phone provides residents of Massachusetts with free, confidential, referral services and is easy to use,” said Eileen Davis, Vice President of Mass2-1-1, and Director of Call2Talk. “Mass2-1-1 is available in all 14 counties across the state and offers translation in over 150 languages. This is a critical service every day, but more so now while the pandemic continues to impact every aspect of our daily lives.”

United Way, Mass 2-1-1 and the Commonwealth virtually celebrated Mass 2-1-1 Day today at 2:11 p.m., along with the opening of a new Call2Talk call center located at the United Way of Pioneer Valley offices in Springfield. A special video submission was shared with attendees from Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, who proclaimed February 11, 2021 as 2-1-1 Day across the Commonwealth.

Call2Talk answers calls through the Mass 2-1-1 statewide platform as well as from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Highly trained volunteer call-takers provide confidential and often lifesaving support to people experiencing emotional distress or potential suicidal ideation and have nowhere else to turn. Call2Talk also works in partnership with the Crisis Text Line to provide support by text for those uncomfortable with speaking to a call taker. Anyone needing emotional support can call Call2Talk directly at (413) 505-5111.

Mass 2-1-1 was created in 2006 to provide information and referrals for health and human services to all residing in Massachusetts, and has been funded each year by United Way organizations across the Commonwealth, including United Ways of Acton-Boxborough, Berkshire, Cape and Islands, Central Massachusetts, Greater Fall River, Greater New Bedford, Greater Plymouth County, Hampshire County, Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, Northern Berkshire, North Central, Pioneer Valley, Southbridge, Sturbridge & Charlton, and Webster and Dudley.

To learn more about the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, Mass 2-1-1, or Call2Talk, please visit unitedwaymassbay.org and Mass211.org.

Mass 2-1-1 Inc. is a subsidiary organization of the United Ways in Massachusetts charged with providing the citizens of the Commonwealth with correct, timely and accurate information the first time they are called or searched. Mass2-1-1 was created and is staffed by the United Way. This 24/7/365 service was created as a resource to connect callers to information about critical health and human services programs.