Live United: It’s the season of giving; make sure it’s warm as well

Published 8:10 pm Friday, November 27, 2020

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Live United by Erin Haag


We had two major events in the last week — our pop-up pantry and the coat and mask distribution day. I have some exciting news to share — I now have a partner in these efforts. United Way of Freeborn County welcomes Nikolle Guion to our team as community engagement coordinator. She comes to us with a social work degree, and became involved in United Way’s efforts last year while completing her degree requirements as an intern at Lakeview Elementary School. Nikolle was my point person for coats and snow pants last year.

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I greatly appreciate having my team of volunteers I can count on, but also looking forward to having another person to help navigate the logistics of these events. Her role will evolve over time, as we settle into our new routine and find what works for us.

Erin Haag

Just a quick reminder that our office is only open by appointment in order to keep everyone safe, and also due to the varied schedule we have. If you happen to be in the area, you’re welcome to come knock on the door. Give us a call from the parking lot; often at least one of us is there and can come open the door.

Nikolle started her day by directing traffic at the fairgrounds for the pop up pantry. She dived right into making signs, speaking with volunteers and helping seniors sign up for food programs. This past Tuesday, we worked with volunteers to safely host our distribution day for coats and masks, serving 65 individuals. We’re happy to share that many of the needs were met, with beautiful handmade quilts.

Even more encouraging, we learned some of the stories. Through our intake, we now are able to reach back out to them if they didn’t get all their needs met, or if they need other resources. A great example is a young man who came in who had holes in his shoes. He was reluctant to come in, preferring to wait outside while his family member shopped, but Nikolle was able to speak with him. He didn’t want to bother us, as he wears a size 15 shoe and correctly assumed we wouldn’t have his size.

He underestimated the power of community, though. On social media I listed his need, and within 20 minutes I had a line of people volunteering to buy this young man shoes. The donor who is working with us is buying him shoes in memory of her father, who wore the same size. Tiger City Sports is working with the young man to ensure we order something that fits well.

We had other needs met this way as well. It’s a beautiful thing to put a “need” out into the world and see those picking up the phone to meet that need. What’s left are a pair of men’s boots in size 7.5. We know we could use some winter coats in men’s large, and snow pants for boys and girls’ in size 6. We also need sizes 4 and 5 in snow pants.

Nikolle and I will be spending our Monday fielding phone calls and doing our best to meet these needs. We’re also looking forward to a team call with the social workers for Albert Lea Schools. If you’d like to contribute to our specific needs list, give us a call at 507-373-8670. We’ll be there with bells on, waiting to answer the calls. You can also email to get the updated list or ask to be contacted as new needs arise.

Lastly, we’re not done with distribution. We will be collecting gear with dropboxes until January. We want to be prepared as kids go back to school for the needs that we’ll find, so we’d love to stock up. Zippers break, kids grow and life happens. We want to replace items as needed, or stock up for next year. Especially for children’s items, we’ll do our best to accept and store winter gear all year long. Due to COVID and the challenges of staffing, distribution is moving to appointment only.

It’s the season of giving; help us make sure it’s a season of warmth as well.

As always, thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the gifts you’ve already shared with us.

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