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Live United: There’s magic that happens when you give what you have

Live United by Erin Haag


I received a phone call last week from a community member. She was concerned because she had heard about our pop-up pantry and mask distribution, and then she heard that the fairgrounds were shutting down due to the rising numbers of COVID. I assured her that because it was an essential need, for providing food, that the pantry was an exception. She was relieved and then went on to thank us for the work. She shared that in the ’60s she worked as a social worker, so she knew all of the logistical planning that went into events like this. As a polio survivor with limited mobility, she appreciated the opportunity to get food for herself and her husband. We talked a bit about our profession in social work and how times have changed, but the core principles of serving people in need doesn’t.

Moments like these remind me why I do the logistical planning for an event. This week was a challenge because we had to prepare for potential weather, we were working with a subcontracted semi driver, rather than the normal Channel One drivers, which meant we needed a forklift and someone certified to drive it — on and on. When I discovered the need for a forklift, I placed a couple of calls. I received a phone call later that day. “You’re killing me Smalls!” I laughed and reminded him it was all for a good cause.  He agreed and has been nothing but supportive.

Erin Haag

I have no compunction when it comes to asking for things. In my mind, there’s a collection of memories stored up for moments like this. They’re not always stories that are easily shared — individually it wouldn’t make up enough information to make for one of those glossy “success stories” meant to pull at your heart strings.

How do you describe the sweet hesitant voice of a woman who calls me when she’s out of food? She lives independently, but has a cognitive delay. I first spoke to her at the beginning of the pandemic. She speaks in a high, soft voice, often hesitating. She told me she used to have a neighbor who would come over, and that neighbor was gone now. She said she wasn’t supposed to go out, but she was out of food. We worked with her to assess her capability and ensured she had food. I’m fairly sure she called me again yesterday. It took me a few minutes, but that sweet voice is fairly distinctive.

I grieve when I see missed calls on the answering machine without a voicemail message. I worry it’s someone that screwed up the courage to call, someone who was not sure how to ask for help. I often interrupt my meetings to answer a call. Sure, sometimes it’s a telemarketer. But sometimes it’s someone who’s looking for my office building to drop off coats and blankets for those in need. Sometimes it’s someone whose home burned down, and the coats dropped off earlier that day are now immediately delivered to someone that needs it.

I can only hope I’m inspiring people to offer what they have, to associate United Way as the place to go when we need to create programs, when we need to brainstorm and when they’re not sure where to turn. This week has been hard for many, with grief, anger and fear clamoring to be heard. It’s OK to feel all these things, but let’s channel it into something else. 

There’s magic when you give what you have. We see this happen in everyday life. The mundane of dropping off a pack of diapers at the Little Free Pantry at Salem Lutheran Church. Crafting for a cause — knitting or crocheting hats for the 100 Hat Challenge of Trinity Lutheran Church. Driving a forklift for me at a Pop-Up Pantry, and rounding up a team to come help me move boxes. I hear my children’s favorite song by JJ Heller on the radio right now, waking them up for the day. “Big magic in the mundane … big love happens in small moments”. That’s the mantra that keeps me going. Please join me this season of gratitude, in sharing the positive stories, stepping up to give, stepping up to help. Together, we will get through this. Together, we are Freeborn United.

If you’d like to help, to talk, to give or to brainstorm, please call my office at 507-373-8670. I just ask you leave a message, so my heart doesn’t worry.

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