LA CROSSE, Wis. — It can be the most wonderful time of the year, but for some, the holidays are a struggle.
Dealing with the deaths of loved ones, depression, unemployment and poverty can make this time of the year especially difficult.
Luckily, help is just three numbers away.
Great Rivers 211 is an informational referral and crisis line that serves 21 counties, including Winona.
“We see people calling in who are feeling down and more alone because of the holidays,” said Mary Mundt Reckase, director at Great Rivers 211.
The service, available anytime, can be reached by dialing 211 or 1-800-362-8255
Great Rivers 211 was started as First Call for Help in 1979 and received about 2,000 calls that first year with a staff of only six.
Now, the line receives more than 25,000 calls each year and has a staff of 18, who answer calls and maintain a database of more than 4,200 agencies across three states.
About three-quarters of the calls are for basic information and referrals, with about one-quarter of callers in crisis, a number that grows during the holidays.
“They’re realizing they don’t have as many connections with other people,” Mundt Reckase said. “They’re struggling with isolation and loneliness, and during the holidays it becomes harder for them.”
Great Rivers 211 receives calls from people looking for support groups, a place to stay, toys for their children, a meal to eat or just a little hope. It’s all about listening.
“You want to make sure you’re understanding the needs of the caller so you can give the best referral possible,” Mundt Reckase said. “We do ask an awful lot of our staff members. It takes a special person to have the dedication, passion and patience to assist people.”
Great Rivers 211 also takes calls from people who want to help, either by donating money or volunteering time. It’s the job of Great Rivers 211 to match people with resources.
People also can visit www.greatrivers211.org to find information, but people often like to find a friendly voice on the other end of the line.
A few words of encouragement go a long way, said Mundt Reckase, and she encourages those who need a little help to call.
“Think about how helpful we can be and how easy it is to use,” Mundt Reckase said.