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United Way’s mental health line merges with Mass 2-1-1

By Jim Haddadin, Daily News Staff

FRAMINGHAM — Over the last two weeks, volunteers from the Call2Talk hotline changed the lives of three people in desperate straits.

The service, run by the United Way of Tri-County, sometimes goes months without hearing from someone at risk of self-harm. But in a span of 18 days, volunteers assisted three callers who were suicidal, guiding them away imminent danger.

Paul Mina, president and CEO of the United Way of Tri-County, said the incidents underscore the value of Call2Talk, a three-year-old service that provides confidential help for people in distress.

Mina joined Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and other community leaders Wednesday to announce that residents across Massachusetts can now access the service free of charge. Call2Talk recently merged with Mass 2-1-1, a statewide information and referral hotline that connects callers with services such as heating or utility assistance, shelter, emergency help and food programs.

Callers can now dial 2-1-1 to speak with volunteers from the United Way's mental health and suicide prevention program.

"This is for mental health and emotional support, and people feeling very insecure in the place that they're at," Polito said.

Speaking to a crowd at the United Way of Tri-County's headquarters on Park Street, Polito thanked the many volunteers who staff the hotline, and encouraged others to get involved.

The service has fielded more than 41,512 calls for emotional support from local residents, according to the United Way.

That number could expand under the new partnership with 2-1-1, which is also the state's official hotline for child care, emergency information and services for runaway children and others requiring assistance.

Mass 2-1-1 responded to more than 110,000 calls last year, according to information distributed by the United Way, which runs the service in partnership with the state. Nearly 5 percent of all referrals were for mental health or drug or alcohol addictions.

While visiting the United Way Wednesday, Polito also celebrated the reopening of the Pearl Street Cupboard and Cafe, the organization's food pantry and kitchen, which recently moved into the building at 46 Park St.

"This is truly a safety net that is working," Polito said, discussing the United Way's food assistance program, which last year reached some 4,000 families. The pantry ranks as the fourth largest in Massachusetts, according to the United Way.

Polito also presented a citation to Roger Challen, who formerly owned the United Way's building on Park Street, and helped the organization purchase it to provide space for the food pantry.

Mina said Challen came up with creative financing mechanisms that helped the United Way afford the building.

The organization purchased it for $1.7 million, a steep discount from its $1.95 million valuation, Mina said last year. The Pearl Street Cupboard and Cafe moved into a renovated space on the first floor in December.

Polito said Challen's generosity is an "incredible gift" to the community.

"Obviously we need a lot more Rogers in the world," she said.

Jim Haddadin can be reached at 617-863-7144 or jhaddadin@wickedlocal.com. Follow him on Twitter: @JimHaddadin.