"Thank you for calling 211. Debbie speaking. How may I help you?"

If you're looking for food or housing, physical or mental-health treatment, even affordable child care, now would be the time to speak up.

"It's a free, easy-to-remember phone number that connects people with important health and human services," says Ann O'Brien Schmieg, a senior vice president at the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey.

Relaunched in February

The new service from the local United Way relaunched last month. The organization is committing enough resources to keep the phone lines open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week.

So far, about 100 people a day from the five-county Philadelphia area are calling in for help, according to United Way officials.

Schmieg said the free call is designed to connect people in need with local nonprofits. She says it also helps United Way keep track of who's hurting where.

"It's a really great way to know how needs are changing, what's happening on a day-by-day basis," said Schmieg. "That information will inform what United Way does in the region, what other funders do in the region, what governments and nonprofit providers do to insure that the needs of folks in our community are met."

Pennsylvania has lagged behind other states in setting up a 211 system. 

United Way says the use of New Jersey's 211 after Hurricane Sandy made it clear that the Philadelphia region needed to answer the call.

This report was done in collaboration with Generocity.org, an online platform to help people stay informed, connected, and involved with civic engagement in the Philadelphia region.