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Family connected to resources through 211 help line

This story originally appeard in the Jefferson City News Tribune. Read the full story online: News Tribune Website

Callers to 211, the community help line, have somewhat consistently for years needed assistance with the same things — housing and paying utilities.by Joe Gamm Feb. 20 2021 @ 11:11pm

story.lead_photo.captionMegan Criddle, right, talks to her 7-month-old daughter, Hope, as the baby is held by James Criddle Jr., 11, on Friday afternoon in their home. A year ago, the Criddles were living in a one-bedroom apartment, which was damaged by the tornado. Now, thanks to Catholic Charities and the United Way of Central Missouri’s 211 help line, the family of eight lives in a home on Adams Street. Photo by Liv Paggiarino / News Tribune.

Callers to 211, the community help line, have somewhat consistently for years needed assistance with the same things — housing and paying utilities.

They oftentimes need help paying for electric service or water and sewer. And they may need help paying the rent or even providing a deposit for rent.

The needs remain the same over the years, according to the data website for the help line, 211counts.org.

Just before midnight on May 22, 2019, a young family’s life changed.

The tornado that strafed through Cole and Miller counties destroyed the roof over the apartment Megan and James Criddle and their family called home. At the time, only one of James Criddle’s children was living in the home, a young daughter.

“Rain got into the house. She pretty much lost all of her clothing,” Megan Criddle said.

The Criddles were at their wits’ ends, she said.

Then she learned through a coworker about a help line. She dialed 211, and the trained specialist she spoke with put her in touch with Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri.

The 211 help line is a resource for families seeking to fill a variety of needs — like food, shelter, child care, senior care, mental health resources, utility assistance, job training, cooling and warming sites, and transportation assistance.

The help line serves 99 Missouri counties. It is available in 38 states, with Montana, Colorado and Rhode Island to join soon, according to its website.

When the Criddles connected with Catholic Charities, the nonprofit provided gift cards so the family could replace lost clothing, Megan Criddle said. Catholic Charities also helped with electricity bills, she said.

For each of the past three years, assistance with electrical service has been the most-requested Cole County need on the help line, according to the 211 website.

Catholic Charities for years has helped people (regardless of religious affiliation) with basic needs. But it had also been involved in case management following disasters.

After the tornado, the nonprofit has shifted its focus, according to Alissa Marlow, the organization’s director of community services.

That shows in annual 211 data. The nonprofit has regularly been one of the top referrals in the county. It wasn’t in 2020.

“This last year, we weren’t a top referral,” Marlow said. “Now, we’ve kind of shifted and our niche is disaster. We are helping with that. They have to be impacted by a natural disaster (such as COVID-19).”

Shortly after the tornado, the Criddles received full custody of James’ four older children.

They were living in a one-bedroom apartment. Catholic Charities helped with rental assistance and connected the family with the Samaritan Center, where it was able to obtain food through the center’s pantry.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought more struggles. James lost his job working at a nursing facility. Megan had to cut back on her hours because she was pregnant.

Their new daughter arrived early and spent a month in a neonatal intensive care unit.

The family received gift cards that helped them pay for fuel to travel back and forth to the neonatal unit.

With six children in the house, the couple had to find a much larger space, moving in October.

And the family received assistance with getting beds for all the children, diapers, “preemie” clothing and other necessities, Megan Criddle said.

Their caseworker has been “awesome,” she said.

“They have been a blessing,” she continued. “If it wasn’t for them, we probably would have been homeless.”