The 211 hotline manned round-the-clock to help people with social service quandaries had a sharp, new focus during the snowstorm known as “Knife.”
Instead of inquiries about which agencies to call for information on food, shelter and counseling, Kelly Dodd’s job was to listen.
People wanted help shoveling and even figuring out what to make for dinner when grocery shopping wasn’t an option. Most – in a Dorothy-after-Oz fashion – slowly realized they already had everything they needed to fix their problems.
“A lot of it is providing some sense of normalcy and calming people down,” said Dodd, assistant director of the 211 call center, which is administered for Western New York’s seven counties by Olmsted Center for Sight.
The 211 center, which opened seven years ago, fields about 30,000 calls annually. The numbers have been normal for the season – about 100 a day – but this week at least 80 percent have been storm related.
While a man near Binghamton wanted to know how to best go about bringing a team of volunteers to Buffalo to help out, Dodd encouraged neigbhors to help neighbors.
Another 211 caller, a mother stranded at an Orchard Park hotel with a toddler, was alarmed when the 7-Eleven she had relied on for food had closed. Dodd said she called the hotel manager, who was upset about guests who had been leaving without paying. However, the manager offered to share cheese, crackers and a microwave, while the woman’s fiancé walked a few miles to the nearest Tops before it got dark.
“People are frustrated and it gives them an avenue to kind of talk about it,” said Dodd, “and be satisfied that they’re doing OK.”
Another woman fretted because she had gone through her reserves of food. As she talked, she found flour and Greek yogurt – the ingredients for a pizza dough recipe she’d found online.
“She started talking and she realized that she already had the answer,” Dodd said. “She was laughing by the end of the call.”
The calls taught her the virtue of not panicking – and preparation. For Dodd this now means: Make sure you never eat that last can of kidney beans.
“It’s great to live in a small city. People help each other out,” she said. “It could have been a lot worse.”