November 2023

United Way’s Innovative 211 Program Delivers Free Meals and Much More

While everyone is familiar with calling 911 for emergencies, some may not know about another important resource that offers help with non-emergency issues. The number to call is 2-1-1.

Established in 2010 by the United Way of Santa Cruz County, 211 connects individuals and families to social and health services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The 211 mission is simple: provide access to services to individuals and families in need.

Those needs could range from help with smoking cessation to obtaining low-cost broadband to assistance with taxes or even rent relief.

The service enables people to ask questions, understand their options, resolve problems, and ultimately improve their lives. It provides information that is easy to access, while providing referrals to a wide variety of social services.

In its latest innovative offering for 211 in the community, United Way of Santa Cruz County has partnered with DoorDash to bring Ride United Last Mile Delivery (RULMD) to local residents via the 211 hotline. The program reduces transportation and health barriers for neighbors by delivering food and essential items to their doorsteps.

The 211 and DoorDash partnership leverages DoorDash’s logistics to power deliveries from local food banks, food pantries, and other distribution points to senior citizens, low-income families, pet owners, and those who can’t leave home, providing food and essential items to those in need.

The program was designed in response to rising levels of financial hardship, food insecurity, and natural disasters.

Last year, United Way of Santa Cruz County delivered nearly 2,600 pantry items and meals to homebound residents, supporting the Second Harvest Food Bank’s participating food pantries. RULMD is a home delivery program that brings food and essential supplies to vulnerable populations, to help address hunger and other complex community challenges. The “last mile” represents the last hurdle in getting food to people who face challenges in accessing basic needs because of health considerations, lack of public transit, or other barriers.

RULMD launched in select cities in April 2020 and currently serves people in 35 states and over 500 cities. During that time, community members have received over 850,000 free deliveries, including 11.1 million meals.

“RULMD extends the ways we already help people respond to, recover from and rebuild after challenges, including those caused by systemic inequities, the COVID-19 pandemic, and our recent disasters, such as the Winter Storms,” said Keisha Browder, CEO, of United Way of Santa Cruz County. “Too many neighbors face ongoing financial challenges, especially when it comes to putting food on the table and covering other basic needs. By partnering with DoorDash, we can make sure our community continues to have sustainable solutions and every person gets the support they need.”

During the 2023 Winter Storms, Ride United was able to deliver food pantry items and meals to those affected by the flooding, providing a total of 705 pantry items or meals delivered to those in need.

A Vital Service
211 is a vital service leveraged by thousands of people across Santa Cruz County. Every day, clients contact 211 to access free and confidential crisis and emergency counseling, disaster assistance, food, health care and insurance assistance, stable housing and utilities payment assistance, employment services, veteran services, and childcare and family services.

Additionally, last year, 211 responded to over 6,000 requests for assistance across the county and provided nearly 10,000 referrals for community resources.
Whether it’s day-to-day challenges or during times of crisis, disasters, or other difficult situations, 211 plays a critical role in connecting affected individuals with emergency services, shelters, food distribution, and other essential resources. The program seeks to reduce barriers to accessing services by providing information in multiple languages and through various communication channels.

People who need help finding available local resources, including food, can call 211 or visit for more information. For more information about the United Way of Santa Cruz County, please visit,

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