WESTFIELD, NJ — Caring Contact, which has been providing phone support to local residents since 1975, has made some changes in their operations, in order to continue taking calls from those who need to talk.

The organization takes non-crisis calls to their “warmline” from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day, with one of approximately 80 trained volunteers available to listen. Caring Contact is also part of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and answers calls from those in crisis, but more than 70% of the calls they take are from local residents who are calling the warmline to talk about their non-crisis challenges, often with anxiety, depression or concerns about a friend of family member.

“As COVID-19 became more widespread, we had a big uptick in calls to the warmline, with lots of people calling about anxiety,” said Mary Claire Givelber, director of community engagement and a trained listener for Caring Contact. “We are getting calls from people who are concerned about getting sick or dying, losing their jobs, about food insecurity. It’s across the board.

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“We’ve had healthcare workers call us about what they’re seeing at work. And those who are considered essential at other jobs, who are thankful they have a job, but are scared to go to work.”

Givelber stressed the importance of their services during a time when people, who typically would not find themselves alone, are now alone.

“About 9% of our calls in early March were related to COVID-19, and by the beginning of April, it was more than 30%,” she added. Caring Contact is currently on track for a nearly 40% increase in calls this year over 2019, Givelber said.

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To make sure they could continue answering calls from anyone who needed their help, Caring Contact made some changes to their call center in Westfield.

“When COVID-19 came along, we wanted to make sure that our space was safe for our listeners, so we could stay open. We have only one person in each of our call rooms at a time. We sanitize every morning, and listeners disinfect the space both before and after their shift,” Givelber said.

Caring Contact has also rolled out remote call answering, using secure lines, to ensure that there is always someone available to answer calls. They began with their trained staff members, then added their most experienced listeners, and will continue adding more listeners to take calls remotely.

“Our calls are all about connections,” said Givelber. “We are just here to listen. While we aren’t a referral agency, we may point callers to helpful resources. We have had Zoom calls with our volunteers to discuss the issues we are hearing in terms of COVID-19, so we are better prepared to be there for our callers.”

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The Centers for Disease Control recommends steps to take care of mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To speak with a trained listener at Caring Contact, call 908-232-2880 from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week. If you are in crisis and need to speak with someone immediately, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8225 (24 hours a day).

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