OTTAWA -- The 211 service in Ottawa and across Canada is seeing an increase in calls for help accessing food, financial aid, mental health services and housing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

New statistics from United Way Centraide Canada shows a 30 per cent increase in calls to 211 across Canada in March to December 2020, compared to the same period in 2019.

Thursday is 211 Day, a day to raise awareness about the service. Mayor Jim Watson has proclaimed Thursday 211 Day in the City of Ottawa.

“211 is a service that anybody can call for government, social, health, community services and its 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. It’s available all the time,” said John Hoyles, executive director of Community Information Centre of Ottawa and 211 East.

Hoyles tells CTV Morning Live the goal of 211 is to help people connect with the government and social services they need, when they need it.

“It’s just simply calling 211 and we’ll have a person talk to them. It will be a live person who will talk to them, find out about the nature of the problem and in fact will advocate for individuals if they think they might need some help,” said Hoyles.

According to the survey from United Way Centraide Canada, 19 per cent of Canadians said they haven’t been able to pay one or more bills since the pandemic began, while 12 per cent said they have experienced food insecurity at some point.

The survey also shows 76 per cent of Canadians said the pandemic has had an effect on their mental health, with 55 per cent saying COVID-19 has caused them anxiety and 36 per cent reported feeling depressed.

211 is a free, confidential information and referral service that connects people to government and community-based programs and social services in their area. Officials say one call to 211 can replace seven phone calls a person may make trying to locate the proper services.

“311 is for municipal services. They have their social services department, but it’s for if your garbage isn’t being picked up, if the snow isn’t being removed – if you have any issue with the municipality. We’re here to provide people with non-emergency support,” said Hoyles about the difference between 211 and 311.

“If you’re looking for support across the waterfront – from food banks to human trafficking, call 211.”

Roxanne Brunet has been answering 211 calls in Ottawa for 12 years.

“We’re here to simplify the process,” says Brunet.

She says at the start of the pandemic, many calls were asking about government services related to COVID-19 or financial support.

“As time goes on, I find it’s more of the loneliness and isolation; I find those are the type of calls the last few months,” said Brunet about the change in the type of calls 211 has received as the pandemic continues.

Brunet says some callers feel hopeless at the beginning of the call, and helping them is worthwhile.

“At the end they’ll express thanks for taking the time, I feel like there’s light at the end of the tunnel; I’ve got a bit of hope moving forward,” said Brunet.