United Way volunteers Keep the Fires Burning

Published 1:07 pm Saturday, November 22, 2008

Freeborn County United Way volunteers braved the cold weather Friday to Keep the Fires Burning and collect money to go toward this year’s Live United Campaign goal. Volunteers collected just over $3,000.

During the 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. event, volunteers stood at the corners of Main Street and Garfield Avenue in bright yellow highway vests, waving and smiling to drivers and their passengers going through the area.

The symbolism behind the event was that as more money was donated toward the organization’s 2008 goal of $592,000, more wood would be placed onto the fire that was in the parking lot at the new A-Best Sew & Vac building (the old Donut Hut). The fire provided warmth for the volunteers, which was especially helpful at 6 a.m. when with wind-chill added in it was below zero.

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United Way Director Ann Austin said in previous years of the event, volunteers collected money from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., but this year, the organization wanted to try to catch the after-work traffic, so they extended the time by three hours.

In addition to the change in collecting money for an additional three hours, there was another change in that volunteers stood at a different location then in past years. Usually, they’ve collected near the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce.

Austin said Freeborn County Engineer Sue Miller told her that 500 more cars pass through that intersection every day than what passed through near the Chamber.

The only problem with the new location of Main Street and Garfield Avenue has been that with more traffic, comes faster traffic, she said.

She estimated there were 40 volunteers made up of different United Way agencies, board members and just regular people who came out to collect money. Some people who volunteered last year decided to come back and do it again, she said.

“Once people get involved they want to stay involved because they can see the impact,” she said.

Next year’s United Way campaign chairman Steve Merfeld was also scheduled to collect money for a shift.

The goal was to collect between $4,000 and $5,000, Austin said.

Several other organizations and businesses chipped in as well to offer services.

The Albert Lea Salvation Army had its canteen in the A-Best Sew & Vac parking lot to serve hot chocolate and coffee. Kwik Trip also gave away hot chocolate and coffee to the volunteers, in addition to 30 pizza gift certificates that the volunteers gave away randomly to people who donated money, Austin said.

Alamco donated wood for the fire, and Sanderson Auto Sales donated a trailer for volunteers to go inside to keep warm.

She’s also been impressed with how several businesses have raised well above their own business’s goals for United Way donations.

“It’s amazing with this economy … ” Austin said. “But it’s because they believe.”

Sue Berg, one of this year’s United Way campaign chairwomen, said despite staying out in the cold, the event was well worth it.

“It’s such a good cause,” Berg said. “We never know when one of us might need one of these agencies because of the economy.”

She wanted to thank all of the volunteers who gave of their time and the people who donated.

“Freeborn County people are really giving people,” Berg said.

As far as the overall campaign goes, the organization is at 65.7 percent of its $592,000 goal. It has $203,160 to go.

Austin said she was pleased with the progress that has already been made.

“I’m amazed at how the giving doesn’t end,” she said.

Another upcoming United Way event is the Dec. 7 Bowl-A-Thon fundraiser at the Holiday Lanes.