ITASCA COUNTY — Throughout the United States, on any hour of any given day, people are finding help navigating crises and finding much-needed resources by dialing three numbers: 211.
One place where this happens is at Itasca County’s 211 helpline, First Call for Help. Local crisis counselors and referral specialists are constantly helping people in and around northern Minnesota find help with housing, food, mental healthcare, and more. Since the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis reached the area, needs have only increased—and so has the call center’s volume of calls.
Fortunately, helping during a crisis is what the specialists at First Call do best. “It’s natural to feel stress, anxiety, and grief during challenging times. Learning to cope during this challenging time in a healthy manner will make you, the people you care about, and those around you become more resilient,” says Cre Larson, First Call’s executive director. “That’s what we at your local 211 strive to assist you with by providing information and referrals and connecting you and your loved ones with COVID and self-care resources.”
On February 11, 211 Day, United Way of 1000 Lakes launched a two-week campaign to raise funds and awareness for First Call for Help. The two organizations have a close relationship— United Way provides funding to First Call annually, and the agencies collaborate frequently to assess needs facing the communities they serve.
“Going through COVID-19 has made it clear how vital the services that 211 provides are,” says Kim Brink Smith, United Way’s executive director. “Our community’s support will help ensure that that it will always be available for those who need it.”
All gifts given to the 211 Fund through February 25 will go towards supporting information and referrals through First Call for Help. Donations can be made by visiting www.uwlakes.org/#donate or texting LAKES to 26989 and selecting “211 Fund” from the dropdown menu. Community members with questions or who are seeking to learn more can visit uwlakes.org or call United Way at 218- 999-7570.
Those seeking help or assistance can dial 211 on their phone, texting their zip code to 898-211*, or visiting www.fistcall211.net, where one can find a resource listing and/or chat with a specialist online. First Call/211 is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
About First Call for Help/211
First Call for Help of Itasca County is a private, nonprofit community organization whose mission is to provide free, confidential, and non-judgmental crisis intervention, active listening, and information and referral services 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to the residents and agencies of north-central Minnesota. First Call for Help is one of three contact centers across the state with a shared database containing more than 40,000 resources.