LA CROSSE — Staff at Great Rivers 2-1-1, a 24-hour information, referral and crisis line that serves 21 counties in southwest Wisconsin, southeast Minnesota and northeast Iowa, have a special message for farmers and their families: We’re here to assist you with information on available services and programs and to listen and support you during difficult times in the agriculture industry.

After reading many alarming stories about farmers in distress, Mary Mundt Reckase, director of Great Rivers 2-1-1, and her staff, decided within their office to start an initiative and try to reach farm families in their large, rural service area. Staff received special training to get them acquainted with new resources they can offer callers: from financial counseling and job training to mental health services and basic needs, those in rural communities can uncover the resources available to them by calling and speaking to a professional information specialist at any time of the day.

“The strength of it is we’re here 24/7, holidays, weekends, days and nights,” Mundt Reckase said. “We’re an important resource for anyone, but particularly farmers and their family members, who can also contact us.”

Great Rivers 2-1-1 is one of a handful of 2-1-1 lines available to citizens across Wisconsin, and has been in service for over 40 years. Financial supporters of this particular line include United Way, Gundersen Health System and counties in which the line serves, along with non-profits and 2-1-1 of Wisconsin, in part. And while other 2-1-1 regions haven’t identified farmers and rural citizens as part of a special outreach, there has been communication among them as Great Rivers 2-1-1 begins this initiative.

“Our interest and concern with farmers is more recent,” Mundt Reckase said. “Farmers have endured economic struggles for many years, but the recent mental health struggles in the farming community have prompted us.”

She and her staff have been reaching out to UW-Madison Extension offices within their area to share information about the 2-1-1 line; packets of information have also been mailed to farmer cooperatives, food cooperatives and agricultural offices, and staff continue to brainstorm other venues where information on the 2-1-1 can be displayed. Farmers, Mundt Reckase and her staff have been told, can be a quiet group, so reaching them with the available resources has been one of the challenges of the initiative.

In the new year, staff are planning to have a table at farm events, dairy breakfasts and county fairs to further distribute information about the 2-1-1 line and the resources that can be found by calling.

However, calls from farmers and citizens of rural areas within their region have already begun to come in, with staff, who work directly out of the center in La Crosse, always available and physically present to help the person on the other end of the line. They are able to efficiently connect the caller with available resources, including the Wisconsin Farm Center, which offers vouchers for free confidential counseling, something of particular interest to Great Rivers 2-1-1 staff.

“This initiative is a big priority for us right now,” Mundt Reckase said. “And the people who are answering have developed skills and are non-judgmental, open-minded and compassionate people.”

Great Rivers 2-1-1 is available to Wisconsin residents in Buffalo, Chippewa, Crawford, Dunn, Eau Claire, Grant, Jackson, La Crosse, Monroe, Pepin, Richland, Trempealeau and Vernon counties by dialing 2-1-1 or 800-362-8255. Residents in other counties that dial 2-1-1 will be connected to their regional 2-1-1, which may also be able to provide resources specialized for residents of rural communities.

For more information about Great Rivers 2-1-1, visit www.gundersenhealth.org/gr211. Questions can be directed to Mundt Reckase at 608-775-6335.