Mar 282005
Authors: Katrina Tamminga

In an emergency people know to call 911. When they need information they know to call 411. However, many people do not know that by calling 211 provides them with assistance in non-emergency situations.

First Call 211 is a nonprofit, information and referral agency in Northern Colorado. During the 2004 holiday season First Call 211 worked with more than 20 agencies, including the Salvation Army, Open Door Mission and the Food Bank for Larimer County, to provide more than 9,000 needy children throughout Larimer County with Christmas gifts.

The agency also provided more than 2,000 food boxes to seniors, disabled people and families.

"Everybody in Northern Colorado who even so much as tried to get help this past holiday season did," said Joan Bertram, a representative for First Call 211. "It was exciting to see people working together and sharing their extra supplies. We still have items left over."

Linda Ekblad, a director at First Call 211, said people can call 211 when they are in need of rent assistance, shelter, food, child care and more. Callers to 211 are connected with volunteers who then connect the caller to an agency that can help with the specific situation.

"We act as a coordinator," Bertram said. "We set up networking opportunities for all of the nonprofit agencies in Northern Colorado and our database supplies callers with the information they need to help their situation."

Sabrina Arch, a director at the food bank, said her organization always has great results when turning to First Call 211 for assistance.

"We work with them when we are looking for volunteers," Arch said. "It helps to have First Call 211 to send people to if they don't qualify to receive food from us."

Bertram said the First Call database has more than 850 health and human service agencies available to the Northern Colorado residents.

"There are so few services out there networking, that it becomes wearing to keep having to tell people there is nothing and no one out there to help them," Bertram said. "We help fill that gap."

First Call 211, along with other nonprofit organizations, receives its funding through the United Way.

"We don't take donations directly," Ekblad said. "If people call us with a donation we direct them to the organization that will benefit most from that donation."

While the first 211 service originated in Atlanta in 1997, the number for Colorado did not become available until April 2003.

First Call is one of the four pilot sites in Colorado, Bertram said. It serves Larimer, Routt, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties. There are 145 active 211 systems in 31 states plus Washington D.C., Puerto Rico and Canada.

Nationally, 211 serves 108 million Americans every year, in addition to organizing holiday drives.

First Call 211 also holds a monthly brown bag meeting the second Wednesday of every month. Each lunch has a different topic on which experts are brought in to speak to directors of the nonprofit agencies as well as community members. Recent monthly topics include anger management, substance abuse, immigration information and family planning with birth control, counseling and adoption

Ekblad said these lunches are also a chance for First Call 211 and agencies throughout northern Colorado to fill the gaps in the health and human services assistant agencies.

"We try to ensure that nobody in need falls through the cracks," Ekblad said. "We want to ensure that everyone who uses it is able to find assistance in some way."

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