Wednesday, September 28, 2022     Volume: 23, Issue: 30

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on April 22nd, 2020, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 21, Issue 8 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 21, Issue 8

Increase in 211 calls signals that community members want help, program manager says

By Malea Martin

Even outside of times of disaster, Santa Barbara County’s health and human services information line—accessible by dialing 211—is always there to help by connecting callers with resources like housing, food, health care, transportation, and more. But during times of increased and unprecedented need, these services become a vital community resource. In the last two weeks of March alone, 211 saw a 300 percent increase in calls. 

211 is available in 98 percent of the county to connect people to resources such as housing, health care, food, and more.

The Community Action Commission—the organization that runs 211 in Santa Barbara County—had to find a way to bring in additional call specialists to meet increased need while also adhering to social distancing protocols.

“We did have to set up a way where not only did we bring in additional call specialists, but we also had to work remotely,” said 211 Program Manager Elisa Pardo. “Our community sees this service seamlessly: They don’t know of the transition. They continue to access this centralized line, 24/7, and access information with a live human on the other end providing that information to them at all times.”

Pardo said that for the call center’s staff, working extended hours is something they’ve come to expect in times of crisis, especially after the county went through the Thomas Fire and Montecito mudslide, when 211 received 7,000 calls in one week. And this time, the difficulties aren’t limited to one area of the county. 

“Everybody, in one way or another, is being impacted,” Pardo said. “As we go through these days, there’s some days harder than others. The demand is high, and we’re trying to do our best to answer every single call and connect individuals to our existing resources.”

But the situation has also brought out something positive: The feedback from the community, Pardo said, keeps her and her staff going. There’s one voicemail in particular left by an older gentleman that Pardo often goes back to.

“About an hour ago one of your wonderful people, a lady, left a food delivery after knocking at my door. I caught a glimpse of her walking away, and I hollered out, ‘Thank you!’ I’m pretty sure she heard me,” the man says, his voice distorted a bit by a poor phone connection. 

“It’s wonderful what you’re doing,” he continues. “It doesn’t happen unless people really put their best. … The work and all the organization it takes to do something like this. … The silver lining to the tragedy is going to be the renewed sense of community … because of people like you.”

Pardo said, “It’s that little recording that keeps me going. That says there is someone out there who is appreciating what is happening and that we’ve made a difference.”

While the help line is seeing high utilization and appreciation right now, Pardo said that in the past, she wondered if enough community members knew about 211 as a resource. The call line is available in 98 percent of the county. It can connect resources to callers in more than 150 languages. In the county specifically, the language line makes Mixteco translation and access possible; 211 can even be reached by texting one’s area code to 898211.

“Not a lot of people knew of 211, and I feel that in this situation, we are able to demonstrate that this is an existing, valuable resource that has been in our community,” Pardo said. “We have additional people calling us that normally would not call into 211.”

As the anonymous caller said, perhaps the silver lining to COVID-19 is that community resources like 211 will emerge stronger than ever once the pandemic has passed.

“We will be here after the event as well, so this is definitely a valuable tool in our community that we are able to adapt to our community needs at all times,” Pardo said.

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