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United Way, Lincoln County partnering on assistance hotline

ANNIE BLACKBURN
Staff Writer

The United Way 2-1-1 program may not be in place in Lincoln County just yet, but if it were up to Executive Director of the United Way Kathy Vinzant and Assistant County Manager Martha Lide, the program would already be running at full steam.
A resource hub that is being utilized around the country and in other parts of North Carolina, the 2-1-1 program is a hotline for non-emergency health and human services. What dialing 9-1-1 does for law enforcement or emergency services, 2-1-1 does for basic human needs. Citizens in search of resources such as food, shelter and health care would be directed to the services they need in their community, a resource that Vinzant and Lide say Lincoln County desperately needs.
“In the United Way office, I get a minimum of 10 calls a week,” Vinzant said. “(People) can’t pay…rent. Drug addiction, suicide. Eviction.”
The problem with the current lack of a resource hub is that there are citizens falling through the gaps. Calls to the United Way and even the county Department of Social Services are often unable to be answered because of the lack of compiled resources, leaving residents with little to rely on.
“Our focus is on getting people what they need to survive,” Lide said.
The merit of the program can be seen in the response following the recent tornadoes in Indiana, severe snowstorms in Denver, Colorado and wild fires in Arizona. The 2-1-1 system provided desperately needed resources to the community and provided invaluable information those citizens otherwise would not have had access to after the devastation.
There are currently two call centers in North Carolina. In 2013, those centers answered 93,000 calls from citizens with 2-1-1 access.
“(The United Way) already has that infrastructure up and running. We just have to take advantage of it,” Lide said. “Once it gets into the United Way database, it’s available for everybody.”
“The more I sit here and the more calls I get daily, the more I realize we have to figure out where our resources are and where we are lacking and how to get there for our county,” Vinzant said.
In partnering with Lide and the county, Vinzant has been able to compile data that will get them started in the right direction, but what they lack is community, specifically volunteer involvement. To get the databases up and running and able to be put in the system, Vinzant and Lide stressed the desperate need for volunteers and emphasized that training is available through the United Way.
“The information is only as good as our people,” Vinzant said.
Though the program is not operational as of yet for Lincoln County, both are hopeful that within 6-12 months, residents in need will be able to reach out to the lifeline.
For information on how to volunteer with the United Way and the 2-1-1 program, call (704) 732-8055 or visit www.unitedwayoflincolncounty.org.

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