The United Way of Long Island celebrated the 10th anniversary of the 2-1-1 hotline on Feb. 11, 2020 at the Bethpage Federal Credit Union in Central Islip. Long Island Press photo.

The nonprofit United Way of Long Island celebrated the 10th anniversary of the launched of its popular 2-1-1 hotline on Tuesday, Feb. 11.  

United Way’s 2-1-1 Long Island is a free, confidential service that provides callers with helpful information to those in need of assistance. Since its founding in 2010, 2-1-1 Long Island has assisted with more than 2 million inquiries that they have received through its call center and online database. 

“Over the 10 years we’ve been operating, basic needs is the highest request and search we’ve gotten by far,” said Elizabeth Eberhardt, the assistant vice president of community impact for the United Way of Long Island. “People looking for your basic food assistance, housing assistance, utility assistance, and maybe funding for medical issues. By and large it is people lacking the income and the resources to manage a crisis in their life at the time.”

The 2-1-1 Long Island hotline started with just Eberhardt answering the phone. It has since grown into a 24/7 operation with a call center and online database that collectively get hundreds of thousands of requests for help annually.

“Another big area of interest is mental health support,” said Lori Abbatepaolo, the adult services librarian at the Middle Country Public Library whose staff assists in maintaining the 2-1-1 website. “That sort of goes hand in hand because when you are living in such duress it is hard to maintain a quality of mental health when you’re always stressed.” 

A notable instance of such a case occurred when a Spanish-speaking resident called the 2-1-1 Long Island hotline in despair. A specialist who received the call immediately transferred the resident to the 2-1-1 interpreter line with a capability of translating more than 200 different languages and then assisted in transferring the caller to a local crisis center hotline. Two 2-1-1 specialists then stayed on the line with the resident until they got confirmation that the crisis line worker had transferred the call to an interpreter so the resident could get the help they needed.

Robert Suarez, the assistant vice president of community development for Bethpage Federal Credit Union, touted the Bethpage Volunteer Income Tax Assistant Program that’s one of the many programs accessible through 2-1-1. The 17-year-old program, which offers free tax help for low to moderate income individuals and families, has helped more than 18,000 Long Islanders. 

“We may not change the world, but we are impacting and enriching people’s lives everyday, which is meaningful and powerful,” said Suarez.

The celebration concluded with a 10 year anniversary cake as Eberhardt exclaimed: “911 is for a burning building, 211 is for a burning question.”

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