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United Way Establishes 2-1-1 Helpline

http://ozarkspub.vo.llnwd.net/o37/KSMU/audio/mp3/unitedwaye_36.mp3

If you dial 2-1-1, you can find out about a variety of health and human service agencies that are available in your area. KSMU's Michele Skalicky has more.

Anyone who needs to find out what health and social services agencies are available in their area now only has to call 2-1-1 from their landline phone.

United Way of the Ozarks Tuesday officially launched the new health and human services helpline, which is available across most of Missouri and in 41 other states. John Rush is president of the local United Way

"The kind of services that you can find out about are our food pantries, clothing, Medicare, Medicaid, home healthcare, Meals On Wheels as well as summer camps and, perhaps, some very practical services as well."

Callers to 2-1-1 in 27 SW MO counties will talk to a call specialist in St. Louis, but they've been trained and have access to detailed information about health and human service agencies in various communities across the state.

Martha Love, Resource Specialist with the Springfield-Greene County Library, which is in charge of providing information about the various agencies to the hotline database, says the new service will make information much easier to access.

"With apologies to the phone companies, the phone books are hard to use sometimes and when you're looking for a specific service and, especially, when you're in a crisis or maybe you don't have a phonebook. Maybe you don't have the means or the ability to look up something that you need right now and so a three-digit number is the simplest thing to call."

About 150 agencies are listed so far, but Rush estimates there are around 800 in this area. They hope to add many more in the next few months.

Rush says the new hotline should prove to be a great resource for anyone who needs help OR would like to find out how to make a donation or volunteer their time to a certain cause.

"If you've ever tried to find some of these services, you'll find that the need is pretty significant. The nice thing about it is it should give you some options, and I think that's helpful as well. One of the problems we had when we went with hard copy directories is that as soon as we finished it, it was dated. And it's a Herculeam task. It used to take us at least six months to put it together and now, with this, it can be more dynamic. Everytime you make a change in your agency's program, then you can update it."

For now, cell phone users can access the hotline by calling 1-800-427-4626, but Rush says they hope to eventually make the 2-1-1 number available to them, as well.

To add information about your health or human service agency, call the Library Center.

The 2-1-1 helpline is funded in the state by a 4.75-million-dollar Missouri Foundation for Health grant, which was awarded to the United Way in St. Louis.