Third of a three part series.
There is a reason both the Municipality of Anchorage and the State of Alaska turned to United Way’s Alaska 2-1-1 at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
Actually, there are four reasons. Alaska 2-1-1 connects Alaskans to the help they need like no other service in the state because Alaska 2-1-1 is accurate, responsive, caring and connected. We sometimes don’t have all of the answers for our callers. But we provide reliable information – a vital commodity in any crisis, personal or community-wide – and we connect our callers to people and services who do have answers and resources they need.
COVID-19 hit our community hard and fast. The city and state shutdowns in response have thus far spared us a surge of the disease, but we have suffered a full and ongoing blast of the shutdowns’ social and economic consequences.
Few if any of us were prepared for this pandemic. But Alaska 2-1-1 was prepared for its role.
Believe me, we had to scramble to quickly stand up a helpline response that could answer Alaskans’ questions about everything from COVID-19 symptoms to state mandate rules to food pantries and People Mover operations. But here’s the thing: we were prepared to scramble. We expanded our services, drafted more help, and stretched our workweek to over 90 hours, open all seven days.
How? Thirteen years of practice, the dedication of our people, and the support of United Way donors.
Alaska 2-1-1 was activated in 2007. Our motto and our promise to callers is “Get Connected. Get Answers.” We couldn’t connect anyone to help without being connected ourselves and that didn’t happen overnight. Over 13 years, we’ve built partnerships and relationships with people, businesses and agencies throughout the state that today help us connect Alaskans to more than 8,500 services. We know how to connect people to help – and we know who to call when we need help ourselves.
Support over the years has not only made Alaska 2-1-1 a steady, daily source of help to Alaskans, but given us the means to build a lean, nimble operation that can and has answered the call in an emergency none of us has seen before.
The data testify to that answer. Start with the simplest comparison – in March and April of 2019, Alaska 2-1-1 fielded 3,477 calls. In March and April of 2020, Alaska 2-1-1 fielded 13,516 calls. That’s a fourfold increase.
By mid and late April, our daily call log generally ran two to three times the pre-pandemic rough average of 100 calls a day. During the two-week period from April 13 through April 26, 44 percent of those calls were related specifically to COVID-19.
Call logs show another benefit of Alaska 2-1-1 – a growing statewide reach. Back in 2019, in the period from March 9-April 9, there were 1,798 calls, about 18 percent from outside of Anchorage. In the same period in 2020, there were 8609 calls, 31 percent from outside Anchorage.
Jennifer Verney, our 2-1-1 manager, reported a comparison of calls of Southeast Alaska from March 1 through April 29. In 2019, Southeast calls numbered 66 for those two months. In 2020, that number was 786. “That’s just one example of how many more people we’re touching,” she said.
That touch is something we’ve multiplied during the pandemic on behalf of Anchorage and all of Alaska, both in sheer numbers and as connection not just to services but to care. Care is a hallmark of Alaska 2-1-1. Our call specialists listen, and that’s a quality that counts to our callers, as years of experience have taught us. That’s how we understand what people need and how we can connect them to help, and also how we connect with the people who call. Sometimes just having someone who listens can make a difference – especially in days of social distancing. It’s hard to put a number on that, but it’s an intrinsic part of the spirit of 2-1-1 that has grown over the 13 years we’ve served.
Our people live by an idea that answers the call for help, even when the call is relentless. That too has been built into Alaska 2-1-1 over 13 years and set the standard that drove our pandemic expansion.
We look forward to the day we can stand down the COVID-19 operation, because that will mean the pandemic has subsided. But when our city, our state and our Alaskan neighbors call on us, we’ll answer.