Impact

From hot food to hotlines: How Community Heroes are using communications technology to serve people during the pandemic


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    Jannet Park
  • Jul 27, 2020
TLDR

From healthcare organizations sprinting to implement telehealth appointments, to food banks transforming physical wait lines into scheduled texts, there are countless Community Heroes innovating to serve more people during this time of crisis.

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Behind many stories of recovery and triumph stands a group of nonprofits and social enterprises working to change lives for the better through technology. These Community Heroes are leading through digital change as they respond and adapt during COVID-19.

Here are some organizations that are continually innovating to help communities adapt to and thrive in the COVID-19 era.

Crisis response

With the ever-changing landscape and effects of COVID-19 in our communities, organizations are using communications to provide a line of support to help people recovering from a personal crisis.

Since COVID began, Trans Lifeline has received nearly 100,000 calls at their peer-support and crisis hotline. It is the only trans support service in the country with all transgender operators. The organization uses a hotline telephony system that enables them to reach trans peers and provide resources and crisis support while maintaining privacy.

In addition to increased calls for mental health support, nonprofits are experiencing greater demand for addiction recovery services. StartYourRecovery.org connects more than 1,000 people to treatment for substance abuse every day. StartYourRecovery.org provides real-time data over SMS when treatment facilities have availability, encouraging people to find the support they or their loved ones need.

Similarly, The Partnership to End Addiction has seen a 49 percent increase in families reaching out to help their loved ones overcome addiction. The Partnership triggers assessments, offers immediate feedback, and guides parents and guardians through their journey supporting family members to prevent and overcome addiction—all over their preferred channel.

Healthcare

Healthcare systems have been at the forefront of change as leaders have battled a pandemic while creating safer systems for both patients and providers.

In the fight against COVID, CipherHealth has connected more than 1 million calls and texts to help screen and monitor patients and staff for COVID-19.

Learn more about how CipherHealth uses technology to encourage patient-driven care.

Luma Health enables healthcare providers to disseminate critical information across large patient populations via mass texting, email, and automated voice calls. Between Jan. 1 and April 5, 2020, the organization broadcasted 1.56 million messages to patients as the volume of provider-sent messages increased by 37 times.

To directly support healthcare workers as they battle COVID-19, Supplies Save Lives set up a text-to-donate number. Their volunteers conducted zero-contact pickups of PPE and fabric masks from homes all over the Los Angeles area, unlocking access to new domestic supplies of critical items.

Food distribution

Food insecurity among low income communities has been exacerbated by increasing unemployment and the complications of safely distributing food while social distancing. These Community Heroes innovated to increase their impact while adapting to the circumstances at hand.

ATLFAMILYMEAL distributed more than 75,000 meals to Atlanta hospitality workers by programmatically texting the recipients of their food delivery system. The volunteer group sends several thousand texts per week to recipients, notifying them of delivery time, delivery status or time windows, and confirming receipt of their meals for the week.

City Harvest and United Way of New York City’s Plentiful program has connected more than 130,000 households with emergency food, including more than 75,000 households that had not visited a food pantry in NYC in over 6 months with their SMS-powered reservation system. The organization scaled to meet 62% greater demand during the pandemic.

Propel aims to make America’s safety net more accessible by allowing more than 3 million households a month to easily check their food stamp balance on its product, Fresh EBT. They streamline access to state hotlines, enabling their users to conveniently access their own EBT account information.

Community services

Like food donors, employees serving critical community hotlines had to find a way to continue responding to their communities’ needs while working off-site.

The City of Pittsburgh’s IT department moved its 311 contact center operations remote in just one week to continue to serve its community. 311 provides critical service for residents to report non-emergency problems or get information about what’s happening in their municipality, like where to get a COVID test. In just the first few months, Pittsburgh staff have responded to over 18,500 calls to 311 with all agents working remotely.

Most 211 agencies in the U.S. have been overwhelmed with call volume over the course of the pandemic due to increased community need. United Way Worldwide has been providing overflow support to reduce strain on local agencies providing social services resources like unemployment and health care information. More than 2,500 call specialists and resource managers are working to help people in need from their own homes, managing the 1,200 percent increase in peak daily call volume during the pandemic.

211 specialist answering calls from home (Photo: United Way)

Read about how United Way 211 adapted quickly to staggering call volumes in the wake of COVID-19.

Education

Like leaders across industries, educators and their technology platforms had to invent remote-first experience for students.

For Kinvolved, ensuring students’ basic needs are met comes before focusing on curriculum. The organization is helping schools remain engaged with their families and students during COVID-19 through their KiNVO platform. Schools around the country have leveraged KiNVO's SMS and MMS capabilities to increase the number of students supported by 15 percent, in everything from distributing meals to conducting student wellness check-ins.

Leading the charge on innovative classrooms experiences, Air Tutors set out with a mission of advancing global learning by making learning more visual and collaborative. Since the pandemic began, the ed tech platform has increased their special education support by 1,725 percent by providing communities across the socioeconomic spectrum with access to personalized education over video.

Together, an app by Bitwise, infuses family time and education by encouraging children and grandparents to play games and read stories while they video chat. Since the Together team set up their video chat infrastructure, their app has facilitated more than 6,000 hours of connected family time when it feels more important than ever.

See how the Together app uses video technology to build powerful inter-generational connections.

Many organizations are helping older adults continue their education through the pandemic.

Cell-Ed has sent more than 3 million messages delivering essential skills to 1 million learners. Cell-Ed is available over any mobile device to provide reading, math, English, work skills, and accurate COVID-19 information.

Essential workers receiving messages on COVID-19 workplace safety (Image: Opus)

On-the-job training platform, Opus pivoted to help frontline workers stay safe during COVID. The platform helped employers send over 1 million messages educating grocery clerks, delivery personnel, and other frontline workers on COVID-19 safety.


For nonprofits, COVID-19 has not stalled innovation. In fact, it has turbo-charged many organizations aiming to do good to find the most creative and effective ways to help those in need.

If you’re a nonprofit organization, volunteer group, or social enterprise looking to scale your communications, visit our Impact Access Program to learn how Twilio.org can help.

Excited by the work of our Community Heroes? Click through the links above to find donation or volunteer opportunities with each organization.

Impact Access

Learn more about our Impact Access program.

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Jannet Park

Jannet Park is a solutions marketer for Twilio.org, working alongside mission-driven organizations using technology to create positive change and action in the world.