Dialing 211 in Horry County can lead to help

Three-digit, shortcut phone numbers have made access for an array of services easier and more convenient for consumers. They include, most importantly, 911 for emergency help from police and fire rescue, as well as 411 for telephone directory assistance, and 811 to “Call before you dig,” for the Palmetto Utility Protection Service, to prevent possible damage to buried utility lines.

Add another phone code to your list for another kind of help at any time, any day, from a landline or mobile phone: 211, an information hot line staffed by United Way, to refer callers to local community resources, whether about inquiries to seek a program for someone coping with substance abuse, or help for an elderly relative.

Data from United Way of Horry County show from 148 calls fielded in May, the five most requested services locally were for rent payment assistance, homeless shelters, utility service payment assistance, food pantries, and crisis shelters.

Also, the most referred-to local agencies last month were Churches Assisting People and The Salvation Army of Horry County, both of Conway; South Strand Helping Hand of Surfside Beach; Waccamaw Economic Opportunity Council Inc. of Conway; and S.C. Housing Search, based in Columbia.

Tracy Lee Vreeland, the marketing and communications coordinator for United Way of Horry County in Conway, Vreeland saluted the many volunteers who help make a difference all year long, every day and in crises. She said such 211 hot lines “are in use by United Ways all over the country,” and that in November, “a big push” got Horry County’s own 211 service “officially up and running.”

The 211 line also provides the masses with emergency details for relief during a disaster,Vreeland said, as its original function was used locally in May 2009, for the dozens of residents whose homes were damaged by fire in Barefoot Resort, near North Myrtle Beach.

Question | How important is spreading awareness of this service available at one’s fingertips by dialing 211 for United Way representatives’ resourcefulness?

Answer | A lot of people don’t know about it, and it is important. It’s not just for somebody who needs a contact for a local food pantry. It’s for anybody. Say you need help finding an assisted living facility for your grandparent; they can assist you with referrals to different places in the area. For someone wanting to help someone with drug and alcohol abuse, they can put you in touch with those agencies. ...

A lot of times, we get people who want to call here, at United Way, and ask about where to get help with something, and we will refer them to our agencies. There are times, when callers say, “Well, I tried them, and they’re out of extra funding to help this month,” and we’ll say, “OK, just call 211, and they’ll check so see if there’s something else available.”

Q. | How many agencies and entities for assistance are part of the radius for United Way referrals across Horry County?

A. | There are 653 ... that serve Horry County. They range from Agape Senior in Garden City Beach to Youth For Understanding.

Q. | How has this 211 service enhancement made United Way of Horry County and its valuable community work more visible?

A. | I think it helps our efforts in that we’re able to help people before their problems get worse. United Way’s mission is to find the root cause of the problems.

Q. | What main subjects mark people’s reasons for calling 211?

A. | In Horry County, there is a big need for basic necessities, such as food, utility payment assistance, electricity, and that kind of thing, and shelters.

Q. | With the ’round-the-clock access, why is 211 ideal for such mutiplle purposes?

A. | Not only can you call for your daily needs, but it’s there in an emergency. ... So if we have another fire, or God forbid, a hurricane, people can call 211 to find out where to get help and where to go to get shelter. ... I try to tell people: 411 is for information, 211 is for community services. ... It’s because of the fundraising campaigns and the people’s donations that we can provide 211.