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There was a surge in demand for food from nonprofits across the country in 2020, brought on by the COVID-induced economic downturn. Here, cars wait in line during a Greater Pittsburgh Community Food bank drive-up food distribution in Duquesne, Pa., two days before Thanksgiving. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Reach out to the helpers

How the United Way helps catch people when they're falling


By Sponsored

It can be hard to ask for help and overwhelming — where do you start?

But especially in times of sudden and extreme crisis as we faced in 2020, the United Way is ready to assist. 

The United Way’s 2-1-1- helpline is a “one-stop shop” connecting individuals across the country who may have one, or many needs, to the services that are right for them. 

In Episode 2 of Good Health, Better World, Julie DeSeyn discusses how the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania’s 2-1-1 Helpline can link people to services from housing, to food, to clothing, when they need it the most. DeSeyn is chief program and policy officer for the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

That helpline receives about 120,000 requests a year for assistance in southwestern Pennsylvania alone, but in 2020 that number surged to 90,000 in the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic. The United Way partners with community organizations to help people access what they need.

Julie oversees a team of more than 20 people who work to implement preventative strategies and find long-term solutions to make the most vulnerable people in our communities stronger. Read part of the conversation here…

Can we maintain the momentum around shining a spotlight on the needs that people have, even when the emergency of the pandemic begins to subside?

I think that there’s been so many relationships that are, let’s call them, forged in the pandemic. So I certainly hope. But I think if we keep thinking that way, what is ahead, it can help us stay focused.

Also, there were a number of reports in Pittsburgh recently. They weren’t new, but highlighted the racial and gender disparities in Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania in particular. So much has happened during the pandemic to raise the awareness of those issues. And that’s one area where, we can’t let it go. Right?  It’s been laid bare so many times. Hopefully it’s got to stick, and we have to agree as a nation that we need to take some very serious steps together to make a difference.

Julie DeSeyn is chief program and policy officer the United Way of Southwestern PA, where she develops strategic partnerships to address pressing community issues from both a program and policy perspective. She also oversees a budget of $14.5 million, all community impact grant-making and initiatives, and 2-1-1.  During her 13 years at United Way, DeSeyn and her team have brought together leaders from throughout the community to identify and address critical issues by testing and piloting new strategies, mobilizing volunteers, seeking positive and preventive solutions, and driving systems and policy changes that have dramatically improved human services for the people in our community.     Prior to joining United Way, she managed large-scale policy and economic development projects for the Urban Redevelopment Authority in Pittsburgh and the Allegheny County Department of Economic Development. DeSeyn currently serves on the Boards of United Way of Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania 2-1-1. She also has served as both board president and treasurer for Grantmakers of Western PA, and is a graduate of The Heinz Endowment’s Women’s Leadership Sync Up Program, Coro’s Women in Leadership Program, and Leadership Pittsburgh’s Leadership Development Initiative.

One of the themes that keeps coming up among our guests is partnership. A meaningful partnership takes time. What have you found promotes meaningful partnership in the context of the work that you do?

Trust. If I’m going to lean on you, I need to know that you’re going to hold me up and it only takes once or twice of that not happening, and you’re just not going to go back.

I’ve been so impressed and it’s heartwarming what I’ve experienced from people’s generosity and willingness to just pitch in and work really hard.

Listen to the whole conversation on the Good World, Better Health podcast.

Need something? Get connected with help today by calling 2-1-1 or go to the United Way’s 2-1-1 website.

Learn more about the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania


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