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United Way 211 Calls Highlight Urgent COVID-19 Community Needs

A 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline call specialist focuses while answering a call

James Collins


As our community navigates the COVID-19 crisis, Greater Twin Cities United Way is committed to bringing our community together and supporting those most in need.

One of the ways we’re doing that is through our 211 helpline. If you or someone you know needs assistance finding food, paying housing bills or other essential services, dial 211, text MNCOVID to 898211, or visit and a Certified Community Resource Specialist will help connect you to resources and services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and in over 100 languages.

During challenging times like now, we’re seeing an increase in calls to 211 from people seeking assistance regarding housing, food, mental health and more. Find out what we’re hearing from our community and how you can help.

What We’re Seeing at 211

Call volumes increased greatly during the week of March 16 and remained high through the end of March. Our information and referral specialists are making 2-3 times the number of referrals we would expect at this time of year.

This chart compares 211 call volumes by need area from March 20-26, 2019 to the same time this year.

This chart tells a lot, but some key takeaways include:

  • There is a strong need for up-to-date, relevant, curated information. In this time of uncertainty, an internet search isn’t enough. Individuals and families need an information source they trust to help them understand and navigate ongoing disruptions.
  • Social services systems have been disrupted. Public health measures have interrupted the ways that many people in our region access social services, which creates an increase in the need for information on how to access services at this time. For example, families and educators are calling with questions about how to access food services for students who ordinarily get them at school.
  • Housing remains an incredible challenge. Food systems are experiencing incredible disruption at this time, but that does not mean housing is any less of a regional challenge. In fact, housing referrals are getting even more challenging during this time of disruption and uncertainty.

However, this chart doesn’t tell everything. Julie Ogunleye, program officer for 211 and policy, reports that:

  • Callers are anxious. Our team receives many inquiries from members of our community who have lost their job, are anxious about the risk this virus poses to them and their families, and are unsure about where to turn for help.
  • Already thin resources are being stretched to the max. For many needs, there simply doesn’t exist a lot of resources (i.e. rent assistance, transportation, etc.). Increased need is not being met.
  • New needs aren’t replacing old needs, they’re compounding them. It can be tempting to only focus on the new needs created by this pandemic, but our information and referral specialists are quick to remind us that challenges created by this crisis are not replacing needs that already existed. In many ways, these new needs are exacerbating existing challenges.

How You Can Help

United Way 211 exists because of the generosity of our donors. In this time of great need, please consider supporting 211 and other emergency response efforts by donating to the Greater Twin Cities COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund at or by texting GTCUWCOVID19 to 51555.

About the Author

James Collins is Senior Director of the 211 Resource Helpline and Suicide Prevention Lifeline Services. He leads Minnesota’s leading social services statewide information and referral and mental program; provided critical social services referrals to 450,000+ people annually. James has a Masters degree in Business Administration from the Carlson School of Management and a Masters in Public and Nonprofit Leadership and Management from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

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