Now more than ever, United Way’s 2-1-1 is a lifeline for people in need

By Lyric Schnur, senior vice president and financial advisor with Hefren-Tillotson

It can be overwhelming to think about all of our neighbors who need support right now. Whether it’s an endless line of cars driving up to food banks, or homebound seniors who rely on others to bring them food and other essentials, countless people — many who were already vulnerable before this crisis — are struggling to get by. But despite the hardships, it’s encouraging to know that organizations like United Way are prepared to guide our community through.

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to be involved in United Way’s mission by supporting the annual United Way fundraising campaign at Hefren-Tillotson’s Butler location and serving as a member of United Way’s Women’s Leadership Council (WLC). Not only have these opportunities allowed me to give back to my community, they’ve also helped me learn more about the urgent issues facing our region and what United Way is doing to address them. And as we’ve seen in recent weeks, United Way has never been more responsive to our communities’ challenges.

We don’t know when this crisis will end, but it’s certain that needs will continue to grow over the coming months. The good news is that United Way and PA 2-1-1 Southwest are offering a 24/7 helpline to protect those who are most affected. By dialing 2-1-1, callers are connected to trained specialists who will refer them to helpful programs and services.

2-1-1 is and always has been a lifeline for the vulnerable

From April 1-15, 2-1-1 contact volume doubled in southwestern Pennsylvania compared to the same time period last year, with more than 13,500 calls, texts, chats and web sessions. That further shows the incredible impact this crisis has had on our region. Nearly 16% of those contacts were about health information related to COVID-19, including testing and medical attention. Housing, food, utilities and employment were other major concerns.

Even before the pandemic, 2-1-1 was a critical resource for southwestern Pennsylvanians who were living with the constant stress of not knowing where their next meal would come from or if they’d have enough money to pay their next electric bill. Here are some other ways 2-1-1 has always been valuable to our area:

  1. It identifies critical needs. 2-1-1 offers deep insight into issues that are present in our communities. Being on the executive committee of United Way’s WLC in Butler County, I’ve had an opportunity to see how 2-1-1 data is broken down to determine what the local needs are and who’s most impacted. When you see that information up close, it’s eye opening.
  1. It adapts as communities do. 2-1-1 allows United Way to focus on needs that are top of mind in our region. But as we’re seeing now, needs are always changing. United Way pays close attention to issues as they evolve and adjusts programs and services as necessary to ensure they’re concentrating on the greatest concerns.
  1. It determines philanthropic and volunteer efforts. 2-1-1 data is used to shape a better future for our communities. When we know what the pressing issues are, we can launch philanthropic and volunteer efforts and build partnerships that will help us address those challenges. We’re seeing that now as organizations and individuals band together to serve our area.

In challenging times, especially the one we’re facing now, United Way and PA 2-1-1 Southwest are there to help our neighbors in need get back on their feet. If you need urgent assistance during this crisis, please dial 2-1-1, text your zip code to 898-211 or visit