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Information Helpline Directs Residents to Local Charities

January 16, 2009

Editor's note: This is the 11th in a series of stories profiling participating United Way member agencies and the work they do in the community. Because United Way services are provided on a confidential basis, names of the subjects of these case studies have been withheld.

With the number of charities and social service agencies in the Upper Ohio Valley, figuring out where to turn first can be a daunting task. For help finding help, there is Information Helpline.

Information Helpline is a free service that links individuals to the charitable groups that can best serve them. Those in need can avoid the hassle of looking for agencies that don't have enough resources, and Information Helpline's case workers assess the client's needs to give other agencies a head start on serving the client.

While other agencies focus exclusively on particular services, Information Helpline networks with United Way agencies as well as other charitable organizations like civic groups, social service agencies and churches. Gina Lancaster of Information Helpline said that while other agencies work hard to serve their clients, Information Helpline's referrals make everyone's job a little easier.

"We do linkage and referrals on everything from furnace repairs to medical costs," Lancaster said.

But Information Helpline does more than direct clients to services. The hotline's Emergency Food and Shelter fund provides Ohio County residents with the money necessary to fend off rent evictions, mortgage foreclosures and loss of utilities.

The Direct Financial Aid Program also assists Ohio County residents facing eviction or utility termination. The Direct Financial Aid Program is funded by the United Way Emergency Assistance fund and the Helping Hands, a group of Ohio County faith communities making contributions to those in need.

Information Helpline also helps to advertise and collect applications for Lace up for Kids, a program that provides new sneakers for kindergartners through sixth-graders in Belmont, Marshall and Ohio counties. During the holidays, Information Hotline collaborates with its partner networks to assist Ohio County residents with gifts, food and clothes to make Christmas a bit brighter.

The Information Helpline's unique role earns it little recognition in the community, but Lancaster said that's the point. Her agency facilitates aid to the needy, and the appreciation is apparent at United Way meetings or just from talking to other groups.

"It's wonderful so many agencies value and respect our agency," she said.

Information Helpline is also connected to West Virginia 211, a larger network that also links those in need to resources across the state of West Virginia.

Available at any time, WV211 takes calls and then patches the individual through to directories like Information Helpline or to groups that can provide services. Lancaster serves as the president of the call center and said it has only increased Information Helpline's effectiveness.

If you or someone you know is in need and you don't know where to turn, call Information Helpline at 304-233-6300. If no one is available, call 211 for assistance.

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