When many heard that Hurricane Sandy was due to hit our shores they evacuated as requested, never realizing at that time that they were in for much more than hurricane winds. What so many NJ residents faced when the storm passed through, was utter destruction. The chaos that ensued turned worlds upside down.
Finding help when you are overwhelmed and traumatized by unexpected life events can feel impossible, especially when you don’t know where to turn. In the aftermath of the storm, NJ 2-1-1, a statewide information and referral service, helped thousands of people find their way to existing services, just as it does every day of the year. “It doesn’t take a hurricane to turn life upside down. Close to 500,000 people reached out to us last year looking for health and human services,” states Joe Geleta, executive director of NJ 2-1-1. “Hard working people are struggling every day to find solutions to the challenges they face. When they pick up the phone and dial 211, we give them hope and help by putting them in touch with local organizations that provide the assistance they need. “
A majority of funding for the services provided by NJ 2-1-1 comes from many sources including local United Ways, state government, and local initiatives. Every day, individual donations are greatly appreciated as well. “Donations of any amount help us to help others,” Geleta says. “And that is what we are here to do.”
While resources may be scarce, often the problem that exists is that programs and services are unknown to those in hardship. The NJ 2-1-1 resource database holds up-to-date information on over 10,000 services provided by more than 3,000 non-profit organizations and agencies in our state. These resources are accessible to anyone who calls NJ 2-1-1. Call specialists are trained to listen with empathy and look for solutions. For many callers this makes the difference between desperation and hope.
The same resources are available to those who go to www.nj211.org, the organization’s newly launched website. Along with access to the database, visitors will find information about assistance programs, eligibility requirements and links to applications. “Our focus is always on connecting people with the programs and services that will ease their hardships and help them find their way to a more self-sustaining life,” Joe explains.
The organization makes sure to spotlight seasonal resources as well. Utility assistance programs are prominent on the website now. During the summer, readers will find information about parks and low-cost recreation alternatives. When the weather turns frigid, a listing of warming centers will be available and when tax season comes around in January, a comprehensive listing of VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) sites will connect people with assistance that will result in access to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).