United Way 211 vital to community needs your help

  • The above infographic compares call volume from Jan-June 2019 vs. Jan-June 2020. It is apparent just how vital United Way NELA 211 has been for our community during a year marked by disaster. Submitted graphic
    The above infographic compares call volume from Jan-June 2019 vs. Jan-June 2020. It is apparent just how vital United Way NELA 211 has been for our community during a year marked by disaster. Submitted graphic

For over 64 years, United Way of Northeast Louisiana has worked with donors, partners and volunteers to create lasting change in the areas of education, financial stability, and health for every person in the 12-parish region of Northeast Louisiana. One extremely important branch of United Way is United Way 211. United Way 211 first began in 1987 as an information and referral service known as First Call for Help.

In 2002 the Louisiana Public Service Commission authorized the use of the three digit dialing code, 211, to United Way of Northeast Louisiana for 12 parishes. Also in that year a function of a volunteer center was routed into the service with 211 being the number to call to get or give help. In August 2004 First Call for Help officially became United Way 211 and experienced exponential growth.

In 2005 Hurricanes Katrina and Rita resulted in over 110,000 calls being answered by local staff in a three-month span. Since then there have been multiple disasters that United Way 211 has responded to including Hurricanes Gustav/Ike, H1N1, BP Oil Spill, Mississippi River flooding, Hurricane Isaac, March 2016 flooding, August 2016 flooding and Hurricane Harvey.

In August 2010, United Way 211 received national accreditation from the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems. United Way 211 has worked with various organizations locally to provide these much needed services to the Union Parish community. “We are proud to have a long standing partnership with United Way 211 through our work in Union Parish,” said Mary Barrios with the Children’s Coalition for Northeast Louisiana, Healthy Living Coordinator and U-ACT Project Director.

“They have participated in events hosted throughout the parish. They provide invaluable resources and information to community partners that have a far-reaching impact on the children and families of Union Parish.”

United Way 211 has provided Northeast Louisiana and the Union Parish community with invaluable services from its inception. However, like many other businesses and organizations, 2020 has taken a toll on the program. COVID-19, Hurricane Laura, Hurricane Delta and Hurricane Zeta all took a toll on Northeast Louisiana. “2020 has been extraordinarily difficult,” said Amy Sawyer, United Way NELA Board Chair. “From a global pandemic to two natural disasters, we have all been affected in some way. In each disaster, United Way responded, just like we always do and will continue to do for our community,” said Sawyer.

The challenges faced by the rest of Northeast Louisiana as a result of lost work, income, and employment, have also affected United Way. In 2019, 82 percent of total funds for United Way came from workplace giving. These were people who gave every month by payroll deduction. “With so many workplaces affected this year, United Way’s financial stability is at stake as well,” said Corre Stegall, United Way NELA Campaign Chair for Lincoln-Union-Jackson Parishes. “Your giving is needed now more than ever in order to continue the vital services that depend on United Way’s support,” said Stegall.

Over 40 community programs, collaboratives and initiatives rely on a portion of United Way funding to help serve the local community. Additionally, 98 percent of all dollars raised in Northeast Louisiana stay in Northeast Louisiana. “United Way does so many great things for our community,” said Michael Ryan, United Way NELA Regional Campaign Chair. “Our campaign dollars help address issues such as reducing hunger in school children and reducing homelessness in our area. These two issues that could be in jeopardy as we move forward.”

United Way campaign funds are projected to be down $953,000 dollars in 2020. While United Way is doing its best to reach as many workplace campaigns and donors as possible, COVID-19 restrictions and fewer jobs make the task more challenging than previous years.

Now more than ever United Way needs the help and support of its communities it has helped support for 64 years. Additional businesses and companies are needed to join the existing ones to help United Way in its efforts to help the community.

United Way 211 calls can offer guidance on issues ranging from basic needs (food, clothing, shelter), disaster assistance, consumer information, volunteer opportunities, criminal and legal services, education, environmental and public health, leisure activities and recreation, troubles with housing and shelter, rent payments, employment, income assistance, health and dental care, mental health, substance abuse programs and transportation.

If your business is interested in starting a workplace campaign, please visit unitedwaynela.org. Individuals who are interested in giving a gift outside of a workplace campaign can donate at Unitedwaynela.org or contact Janet Durden, President, by emailing jdurden@unitedwaynela.org or calling 318-325-3869.

If you or someone you know in the community could use the assistance of United Way, you can dial 211 or text your zip code to 898-211.