Feb. 11 is 2-1-1 Day to raise awareness about New Jersey's free, confidential 24-hour hotline that anyone can call for assistance with ongoing needs such as affordable housing, heating assistance, temporary financial assistance, disaster services, mental health services, nutrition and food assistance and numerous other human service requirements.

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The statewide help and referral call center has been around since 2005, according to NJ 2-1-1 Executive Director Joseph Galeta.

"Last year we had nearly 400,000 people contact 2-1-1 for health or human service needs, and by far the most prevalent call we receive is for temporary financial assistance -- the family that can't make ends meet for the end of the month and needs some additional financial resources," Geleta said.

Geleta said 2-1-1 call specialists connect people with whatever resource they are looking for in the area where they live.

"They try to make it locally to where you reside, so you don't have to travel far," he said.

Inquiries seeking help with tax preparation was another service that generated a high number of calls in 2015.

"Usually in the beginning of the year, from January until March, we have our Tax Preparation Assistance number in full swing and we partnered with some of the United Ways and some other agencies throughout the state that offer free tax preparation and last year alone, we had nearly 6,000 people call us for tax assistance, and over 12,000 people viewed our website for tax preparation assistance," Geleta said.

NJ 2-1-1 has a newly enhanced website, www.nj211.org, which provides visitors with full access to the 2-1-1 resource database of over 10,000 programs and services. It's organized to allow users to "self-serve" by providing comprehensive information such as application links, application agency locations, eligibility guidelines and critical dates. The website devotes special sections to specific topics, including Financial Assistance, Affordable Housing, Food, Emergency Preparedness, Senior Services, Family Services, Home Energy Assistance, Utility Assistance, and Resources for the Unemployed.

Calls to 2-1-1 usually remain steady each year, however, Geleta noted that there was a very large increase of people needing services after Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

The United Way launched NJ 2-1-1 in 2005 as a free way for individuals to connect to essential resources. Nationally, 2-1-1 serves more than 238 million Americans in all 50 states, plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico.

NJ 2-1-1 provides services in multiple languages and serves the hearing impaired through its TTY services, and also can be followed on Facebook and on Twitter @nj211.

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