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Live United: It is a busy season at the United Way of Freeborn County

Live United by Erin Haag


It has been a productive week!

I’ve written before about our Americorps VISTA program, and the position open with that. I’m excited to announce that the position has been filled. Adam will be joining us by Nov. 9. Hailing from a small town in Arkansas, he’s a true Vikings fan, and is pursuing a degree in social work and music. A jazz musician that plays the trumpet, I have no doubt we’ll be able to agree on the right music station to listen to. I hope you’ll join me in welcoming Adam to our community.

Erin Haag

Having a successful VISTA program relies on the community welcoming committee. I consider it similar to a foreign exchange student program. We want to show them our community, hep our VISTAS be included, make friends and develop relationships. We want to support the VISTA, who is committing a year of service to build a program for the betterment of our community. This is the type of thing that real, lasting change is made of folks.

We asked him what kind of questions he had about our community. He asked about food. We told him about our fabulous food trucks, our infamous B&B Café and 112 On Broadway. I’m fairly sure there are enough foodies in town to make him happy. (Anyone else hungry yet?) Adam also asked questions about safe places to live. He’s been provided with a list of places. We reassured him that myself and the board of directors will stand in for his family and friends and ensure that he’s in a good situation. He’ll be invited to our homes on holidays, and the ones he can call when he’s got a flat tire on the side of the road. We’ll be his local emergency contacts, his tribe, his people.

I’ve got a small stockpile going for him, gathering household items for him to make it easier to move. There’s a bed, a desk and a small couch waiting for him when he arrives. I’m hoping to have a kitchen table and chairs, kitchen appliances and utensils, maybe some lamps and of course — a welcome basket. What better way to introduce Adam to our community than a welcome basket with information and goodies from all the hidden gems around our area? If you’d like to contribute to the cause, give me a call at the office.

This week, I also secured the start of the United Way Winter Gear Drive. Last year, over a thousand families were assisted with winter coats, snowpants, gloves and more. People in need were able to come and shop for the coat they wanted, empowering them and giving them the dignity of having a choice. We worked directly with the social workers within the district to bring items that were in need.

This week, we were able to secure the space, received a generous donation from Hope Church of tables to use to display items, and Eastside Laundry is generously sponsoring us so we can ensure that items donated are clean. The Chamber of Commerce has been a fantastic partner with us so far, helping develop the logistics and the COVID-19 safety plan. Once again, Whimzy Toys is leading the way in community giving by agreeing to be a drop box location.

Of course, it’s not too late to get involved. While many businesses may be closed to the public, consider hosting an internal coat drive among your employees. Monetary donations are accepted and are used to support the school needs. There’s a volunteer opportunity here as well. From cleaning the empty room where the coats will be set up, to picking up coats from drop boxes and helping launder them at Eastside Laundry, to helping on distribution days, there are plenty of options that would fit social distancing requirements.

Is that a full work week yet? Probably, but we’re not done yet. Our campaign officially kicks off on Monday, and I hope you’ll join United Way in thanking our essential workers. This year, the theme is United Together, Freeborn Together. Around town, there will be yard signs in the shape of Minnesota where community members are invited to write a message of thanks to our first responders, our education teams, our health care supports and more. I don’t have exact locations yet, but on Monday morning, check our social media pages and our website, and I’ll hop on to the Party Line to announce where there are.

I know it felt like the world was giving thanks to everyone at the beginning of the pandemic and it might seem like I’m recycling a message. However, my gratitude hasn’t lessened, it’s increased. I’m in awe of the energy and positivity our teachers are bringing to their classrooms, in person and remotely every day. I’m grateful for our line workers and IT departments keeping our power running and technology connected. As leaders are facing burnout, it’s important to cheer them on. Our campaign is focused on thanking them and reminding our community that what United Way does is for our frontline workers. Join us in a campaign of thanks and show how we can be United Together, Freeborn Together.

Erin Haag is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.