Helpline operator

Text messaging is changing the game for those seeking health and human services in Nebraska, southwest Iowa and beyond, according to the latest statistics from United Way of the Midlands and its 2-1-1 Helpline.

Nearly 500 people were served through some 2,000 Helpline text exchanges in 2018, according to United Way officials.

The feature was introduced in October 2017 as an alternative to traditional Helpline calls for shelter, housing, utility assistance, healthcare, employment, education, senior services, child and teen services, abuse prevention and other resources.

“Millennials in particular really wanted to text,” says 2-1-1 supervisor Fratina McCraney. “It’s great that people can send a quick text to ask, ‘Hey, is the food pantry open?’ or anything else they need.”

Managed by United Way of the Midlands, the 2-1-1 Helpline is faster than an Internet search, McCraney says, since up-to-date local resources are at United Way’s fingertips. In 2018, the Helpline provided more than 70,000 referrals to community programs.

Across the United States, 94 percent of residents can contact 2-1-1 in their communities. When Hurricane Florence hit Florida and the Carolinas, 128 disaster-related text messages were routed to United Way of the Midlands’ Helpline, resulting in 639 interactions with victims and staff, according to McCraney.