"Call 2-1-1." A phrase that is echoed countless times across the country, 211 serves as the go-to answering service for health and human service needs. But how does that play out in Northeast Tennessee, and just what does 211 do for people—especially during a pandemic with rippling effects like COVID-19?
211 is set up to offer resources and refer callers to the most appropriate agency or organization to help with their need. Margaret Counts, Executive Director of Contact 211 of Northeast Tennessee, indicated that sometimes people call and just need someone to talk to. "We want them to know, 'You are not alone—we are here to help.' We have heard from so many people who are scared and confused and are hurting. We listen in a non-judgmental way and can help with just about any health or human services need. We are fortunate to live in an area where there are many resources to help, but one has to know how to access the most appropriate resource at the critical time of need, and  can help with that."
Counts said that during the last two weeks of March (once COVID-19 was declared a National Emergency), 211's call volume tripled nearly immediately. "Most people were first-time callers and predominantly contacted us because 1) they had lost their job(s) and had no income, and therefore needed help with multiple issues, and/or 2) they were seniors who, because they are in a high risk category to contract the virus, were afraid to go out and wanted to have food delivered to them."
Those food deliveries are where "MyRide Kingsport" came in. In addition to resource referral, 211 had already expanded their services in recent years to include the MyRide program. Lisa Christian, MyRide Kingsport Transportation Coordinator, explained that MyRide was initially set up as a "senior friendly program offering door through door transportation to improve the overall health of individuals 60 years and older." Volunteers typically drive clients to various medical appointments, errands, and any other outings and destinations.
Christian indicated that their services have pivoted uniquely during COVID-19. While their skeleton crew of volunteers have still taken clients to essential medical appointments, they have also begun online grocery ordering, shopping, pharmacy pick-ups and more, delivering essential items to clients so they did not have to take a risk to visit the store. "The program is adjusting to assist our clients any way possible to keep them healthy," Christian added. MyRide Kingsport made over 250 deliveries in recent weeks and has seen nearly double the number of rides given (even despite the change to include essential medical appointments only) due to an influx of new clients. "The #1 message from MyRide Kingsport is that we are here for our seniors who are 60 years of age and older who are ambulatory (can walk with assistance of walker and/or cane) and have a Kingsport address," Christian emphasized.
Both MyRide Kingsport and Contact 211 of Northeast Tennessee are looking for additional volunteers. People can become involved with MyRide while practicing social distancing and CDC guidelines Those interested in becoming involved with MyRide can call Lisa Christian at 423-530-6340 or sign up at www.volunteer-united.org. Drivers must be over 21 years of age, have a valid driver’s license, clean driving record, pass a criminal background check, and provide proof of insurance. Anyone with a phone, a computer and access to the internet can volunteer to answer calls for 211. Those interested should submit a contact form at www.contact211netn.org or dial 2-1-1.
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