211: A Lifeline in Good Weather and Bad

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When arctic temperatures and relentless snowfall plunged Michigan into a deep freeze this week, our 211 team continued to report to work, taking calls from people across the state who needed help. Calls like the one that came in on Tuesday from a mother of three in Ionia County.

She called because her heat had been shut off. All the agencies in her community were closed and Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services had denied her request for State Emergency Relief. The program can only be accessed once per year, and she’d already called for help once. She was frantic. She felt like she’d exhausted all her options.

That’s when she picked up the phone and called 211.

Do you have a family to stay with? Heather, a 211 team member, asked her. Do you have space heaters you can plug in? She didn’t.

Heather notified programs and services director Sherri Vainavicz. “I sent an email to Health and Human Services’ disaster coordinator explaining the situation and asking if there was anything they could do,” Sherri says.

The coordinator took the request to a superior. “Within thirty minutes they had waived all their guidelines for emergency assistance and they sent somebody out to the home in Ionia and had her utilities turned on that day.”

This family was one of hundreds Heart of West Michigan United Way’s 211 team has helped this week across the 14 Michigan counties they serve. If you or someone you know needs help with food, shelter, utility assistance, or any other essential, 211 is just a phone call away. 24/7. 365 days a year.