Written by Regina L. Greer, vice president of community response at United Way of Greater St. Louis
Imagine being a first responder that saves a family from their severely damaged home; a concerned citizen witnessing devastation and grief on the faces of your neighbors on TV; or a parent seeking food, water, and toiletries for your family.
The need to have a place to turn for help is real.
These scenarios describe some of the real-life situations people faced after one of the deadliest tornadoes in US history in Joplin, Missouri, in 2011, and the aftermath of the heart-wrenching civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. There’s no doubt that the precipitating factors of these events are very different, yet both crises left people in need of a place to turn. In the hours, days and weeks following the emergency response efforts in Ferguson and Joplin, United Way 2-1-1 was “that place” where people connected to the help they needed.
Whether you were the first responder who came across a family with nowhere to go, that volunteer who was eager to help their neighbors, or the parent who needed basic necessities for her family, United Way 2-1-1 was a ready-to-go resource when absolutely anyone needed help 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Operated by United Way of Greater St. Louis, United Way 2-1-1 helps people from all walks of life that are searching for resources including basic needs assistance, after school programs for children and job training programs. Governments, nonprofits, first responders and everyday citizens rely on this helpline to assist people across 107 counties in our region during various predictable and unpredictable situations.
The contrasting events in Joplin and Ferguson—a formidable storm and the unrest of a community—exacerbated already existing needs of the community’s residents.
I learned that when an individual or family requires help, the needs brewing below the surface will always rise to the top.
In Joplin, United Way 2-1-1 responded to more than 12,000 calls in a two-week period. People requested basic needs support—like food, water and shelter—as well as help searching for missing loved ones. Many people also contacted United Way 2-1-1 offering to help. More than 20,000 volunteers were matched with opportunities to help with immediate and long-term response efforts.
In Ferguson, people were trapped in their homes and neighborhoods without a place to go for basic needs that were no longer accessible or available. United Way 2-1-1 organized a Community Resource Drop-in Center and a Multi-Agency Resource Drop-In Center in the days and weeks following the civil unrest that helped more than 2,000 people gain access to food and personal care items that put them back on a path to life security.
First responders linked us to people in need, we linked volunteers to secure opportunities to help, and we linked families to organizations that could help them get back on their feet. United Way 2-1-1 was able to be the link for the community.
When I reflect on these two events, I’m more convicted than ever to continue this work. Not all emergency or crisis situations will be predictable, nor will they ever be exactly the same. I learned that when an individual or family requires help, the needs brewing below the surface will always rise to the top. United Way 2-1-1 will remain the link to help that family recover from the tragedy and connect them to the resources that may help them improve their current realities to put them on a better footing for the next unpredictable situation.