GRAND RAPIDS -- The number of people reaching out to First Call For Help in winter might be lower than in summer, but the calls are often much more important.

In a recent public service announcement, First Call For Help officials issued a reminder that the phone service is available at all hours throughout the whole year. It's especially important in the winter months, though, according to the program's executive director, Cre Larson.

"It's the summer where we receive the highest volume of calls. However, this is the time of year where the volume is lower, but the severity of the calls are higher," Larson said. "We might have less calls around this time of year, but the calls we get are from people who may have an acute mental health crisis, are feeling suicidal, or are homeless."

Established in 1974, First Call For Help originally served only Itasca County. Then, in 2010, the United Way's 211 program designated First Call as a hub to cover the seven north central counties, including Beltrami County.

Larson said 211 is a nationwide program through the United Way, with four hubs in Minnesota covering the 87 counties. The program acts as both a call center for crisis situations, and provides referrals for local food shelves, day care options and other programs.

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The volume often increases in summer when parents are looking for programs for their children, Larson said. The contrast in winter, Larson said, are the number of crisis calls.

"The holidays and winter can be tough for people," Larson said. "We do get some calls for programming referrals, but more often, it's those who're suicidal or are suffering from substance abuse. The saddest calls come during this time of year."

When those calls do come in, Larson said First Call receptionists are trained in phone counseling.

"When a person calls, they're able to receive counseling on the spot," Larson said. "The center is also able to dispatch crisis teams, including Beltrami County. We compile resources, transportation and medication while we're still on the phone."

The First Call hotline is available 24 hours a day, each day of the week, throughout the whole year.