As appeared in the Berkshire Eagle
Imagine, that you and your partner have decent paying jobs, which enable you to pay your modest mortgage, put food on your table at every meal, and gas in your car to drive your children to extracurricular activities and play dates after school.
Now imagine, that for circumstances beyond your control, you suddenly lose your job. A recent study found that 40 percent of American households don’t have enough money put away to make ends meet, should their income be suddenly interrupted. Many of these people are in stable jobs with good pay and benefits.
If you found yourself in these unfortunate circumstances, would you know where to go for help—or at least know someone who could point you in the right direction?
That is not the case with many of our families here in the Berkshires. In fact, there is a real need for someone to connect families with the help and local services that are available to them. The solution is Mass 2-1-1.
Over 25 years ago, 2-1-1 was launched nationally by United Way of America as a free way to connect people to essential resources. A program of the United Ways of Massachusetts and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Mass 2-1-1 connects residents to community resources 24 hours a day, seven days a week, answering calls in 140 different languages.
The mission of Mass 2-1-1 is to ensure that Massachusetts residents get correct and helpful information the first time they call. According to Mass 2-1-1 CEO, Paul Mina, “The collaboration between the United Way and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts allows Mass 2-1-1 to access stable resources sufficient enough to continue this vital service well into the future.”
So, what happens when you call 2-1-1? Your free, confidential call is routed to a trained information and referral specialist, who helps identify your needs, then refers you to relevant human services, health or education resources from a comprehensive database. For example, in the case of someone who has recently been laid off or whose hours have been reduced, the Mass 2-1-1 specialist may share information about unemployment benefits, job search options, SNAP benefits, food pantries, mortgage or rent help, utility assistance, counseling, and other resources.
Berkshire United Way is proud to partner with Mass 2-1-1; by providing financial support, we ensured the 76,492 Mass 2-1-1 calls received from Berkshire County residents last year were answered. The most common requests for assistance were for child care support and services, utilities, mental health support and housing or shelter.
“I believe, now more than ever, it is vitally important to provide information and referrals for resources that are truly able to assist our families with the challenges they are facing each day, so they don’t have to make a decision between putting food on the table, a roof over their head, or paying for childcare so they can keep their job,” says Pamela Preston, director of child care operations at Berkshire Children & Families. I think the Mass 2-1-1 program is a huge resource for our families to turn to,” she added.
In collaboration with Boston Children’s Hospital, the Boston Public Health Commission and The Greater Boston Foodbank, Mass 2-1-1 also maintains a searchable online database at mass211.org, which includes a guided search function that makes it easy to navigate the site.
If you are a service provider in Massachusetts, we encourage you to promote the wonderful programs and services your organization provides to our county’s residents by enrolling in or updating your information on the Mass 2-1-1 website. This will ensure that help and support is available to those in need, when they need it most.