The J.M. Smucker Co. and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation today announced grants to United Way of Summit & Medina. The $125,000 from each organization – a total of $250,000 – will support United Way’s 211 information and referral program, which connects people across Summit and Medina counties to local resources when they don’t know where to turn to for help. The free, confidential service is available by phone, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, simply by dialing 2-1-1. Residents can also receive help via text message by texting their zip code to 898-211.
In 2020, United Way’s 211 program answered 84,380 calls and texts for help from Summit and Medina County residents. Within two weeks of Ohio’s first reported case of COVID-19, calls to 211 surged 273 percent. And throughout the pandemic, 211 continued to support residents with up-to-date public health information, free deliveries from local food pantries, free financial coaching and more.
The $125,000 contribution from The J.M. Smucker Co. extends the company’s long-time commitment to the United Way, nationally and through the local chapter, while expanding its work to address the unique needs of its communities.
“We are thankful for the opportunity to support this important initiative which has become increasingly critical as the lasting impacts of the pandemic effect so many,” said Tamara Fynan, Executive Director, Community Engagement and Philanthropy. “The 211 program offers a convenient way for people to reach out for support when they may be reluctant to do so and in cases where they simply aren’t sure where to turn. An important example of this is the support the 211 program offers for those struggling with mental illness, which is top of mind for so many given the stress we have all experienced over the past year and as we recognize Mental Health Awareness Month.”
Knight’s $125,000 in support of the United Way’s 211 information and referral program will help expand its capacity to handle anticipated high call volumes throughout 2021.
“Increasing the resources for 211 service is critical for Greater Akron as the community begins to recover and rebuild from the pandemic,” said Kyle Kutuchief, Knight’s Akron program director. “Data collected and shared through the Summit 211 website will help identify the specific needs of Akronites in real time, including housing and shelter, employment, education and health care.”
The support for 211 comes during Mental Health Awareness Month, celebrated annually during the month of May. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly one in five American adults will have a diagnosable mental health illness in any given year.
Tens of millions of Americans struggle with mental illness, making them more vulnerable to issues such as food insecurity or eviction. For them, programs like United Way’s 211 are an invaluable resource, providing individualized referrals to vital services, such as mental health treatment, nutrition assistance, eviction prevention and more.
Brittany Trask, a licensed social worker who manages United Way of Summit & Medina’s 211 call center, says that 211 is often the first touch point for those who go on to receive mental health treatment. While callers may be reaching out for assistance with an immediate need, such as utility assistance, 211 operators are trained to recognize deeper, underlying issues and refer callers to help they may not even realize is available.
“A lot of times, people with mental illness are dismissed by society. But when they call 211, they’re not going to be dismissed,” said Trask, who noted that 211 operators are trained to assess the risk of suicide or domestic abuse. “They’re going to be spoken to by an empathetic individual who cares, and who will help them get the help they need.”
“The pandemic highlighted some of the most immediate needs in our community,” said Jim Mullen, president and CEO of United Way of Summit & Medina. “But those needs have always been there, and they’ll persist long after the pandemic is over. 211 is an essential part of our community’s safety net, so we are thankful to The J.M. Smucker Co. and the Knight Foundation for investing in our community’s resiliency.”