A family in South Anchorage is struggling to pay a utility bill, a senior in Fairbanks needs help with scheduling a doctor appointment, a family in Kenai is months behind in the rent, a parent in Mat-Su needs to find childcare. “Call 2-1-1” – that’s become a routine recommendation for Alaskans who need help. The amazing Alaska 2-1-1 team is there to answer the call, and over the past year, they have had the phones ringing like we’ve never seen.
I could share a lot of data to make the point, but one metric tells the story: In 2019, Alaska 2-1-1 logged 19,333 calls. In 2020, Alaska 2-1-1 logged 70,436 calls. That’s more than a three-and-a-half-fold increase.
So, it’s little wonder that Alaska 2-1-1 staff were classified as essential workers from the start of the COVID pandemic. They were called upon by both the Municipality of Anchorage and the State of Alaska to be the official go-to source for information for anything from medical and public health questions to the many needs of our community because of the steep economic decline.
The accomplishments of the 2-1-1 team and their commitment to serving all Alaskans is why on February 11th, we celebrate the annual “2/11 Day”. We want the team to set their phones down for one minute to hear us as we say a big THANK YOU and share in their pride for being there for our neighbors across Alaska.
Alaska 2-1-1 has become the portal for Alaskans to access millions of dollars in rent, mortgage, and utility relief; help with child-care assistance; the new round of open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act that begins Feb. 15 and access to Free Tax Prep, which funnels millions in tax credits and refunds to low- and moderate-income families in Anchorage.
More than just a portal, Alaska 2-1-1 also wrangled the tsunami of applicants for mortgage and rent relief into an intense but manageable wave for Lutheran Social Services. And the helpline continues to provide a real-time measure of community needs.
Alaska 2-1-1’s rise to the challenge of the pandemic was 13 years in the making. The building of our referral lists and getting to know our partners, the generous grantors, and donors over the years, the public officials with whom we’ve joined hands to be there for Alaskans didn’t all just coalesce overnight. The long-range work that many of you have supported has also paid off in a swift response to the virus, a response that has keep many of our neighbors afloat.
“Our goal is to bring clarity to a situation,” said Sue Brogan, who directs Alaska 2-1-1. What do you need? What are you lacking? When both those seeking help and providers have all those answers, the path forward becomes a lot of clearer.
Alaska 2-1-1 is a human enterprise and much more than just a list of agencies and potential help. The team has a lot of knowledge at their fingertips. But more than that, they listen to people. That’s vital to “bring clarity to a situation.” Jen Verney, Alaska 2-1-1 manager, has said that call specialists often note that callers tell them they feel better after being able to talk about their challenges and know that someone is giving them an intelligent, caring ear on the other end – and can better guide a way to solutions.
On February 11, we will celebrate all the hard work, patience, empathy, and efficiency the 2-1-1 team brings to those in need across Alaska. And like every other day, they’ll be doing what they do best – aiding your neighbor, your friend, your family to get the help they need. Thank you to the 2-1-1 team for everything you do!