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Guest Column: Giving food to others in the community is an act of love

Live United, By Erin Haag

My daughter learned long ago that feeding people is love. When she was 4, she asked me to help her make mini apple pies in the shape of hearts for her daddy for Valentine’s Day. Last year, she took Grandma’s special Christmas cookie recipes and baked them and chose the perfect cookie tin to gift to her grandparents. This fall, she’s been fortunate enough to have a caregiver who enjoys baking, and they’ve expanded on her experience. Her daddy has appreciated each pan of brownies, cookies and other sweets.

Erin Haag

A few years ago, I had surgery right before Thanksgiving. My husband stayed home to care for me and the children. At the time, they were 3 and 5. He decided it would be a great day to make cut-out cookies with them. I sat comfortably in my recliner, laughing and snapping pictures as I heard, “Stop that! Don’t move” and “this was a terrible idea” and then, “oh, you’re going straight into the bathtub.” My husband really couldn’t handle all the flour all over the kitchen. This mama got some good laughs, though, and the pictures to go with it.

If feeding people is love, then Freeborn County has shown it in spades the last few weeks. On Wednesday morning, I got a return message from a pastor. I had reached out to various faith leaders who might need food. His message said, “ Thanks, but I’m all good on food here. Strange to be in a place where people aren’t asking or are turning away food.” 

I wish I had all the numbers. It’s an incredible impact when you think about the number of meals. You’ve been reading about the Pop-Up Pantries we’ve had, with a total of 65,440 pounds of food. Albert Lea Schools announced 25,408 meals were handed out over the last couple of days, and that’s on top of the daily lunches they’ve been doing. Salvation Army has their holiday meal boxes, and Dave Syverson stepped up to donate 200 meals to families in need.

There’s a lot of work that happened to ensure the food is getting out where it’s accessible. Local community members in Hollandale stepped up to pick up meals for families that were focusing on learning. Volunteers answered the call of extra food available after distributions were over and loaded up trucks, driving out to rural food programs such as the Alden Food Shelf. More volunteers showed up to load another truck for a hot meal site. Volunteers deliver Meals on Wheels and Meals to Go, and then show up at my Pop-Up Pantries. More volunteers show up to deliver boxes to homebound seniors. Albert Lea Y and UWFC team up to hand out food boxes from the Nutritional Assistance Program for Seniors (NAPS). Public health nurses deliver groceries and food boxes to those impacted by COVID-19 and other barriers.

Small businesses are in the game, too. This fall, Huntley Gardens donated apples to UWFC, and bags of apples went out to the Meals on Wheels program and to Head Start preschool families, as well as The Y’s child care program. Casa Zamora and The Travel Concierge teamed up to not only thank Public Health with take-and-bake enchiladas, but also worked with Public Health and found families to share their bounty with. Companies such as Minnesota Corrugated Box have been feeding their employees to boost morale. Papa Murphy’s reminds our community of the need by offering a discount to those who bring in a canned food donation. Provenio Consulting teamed up with Yankee Catering to donate Thanksgiving meals.

This Christmas, I’ll enjoy my meal a little more, knowing that others are eating as well. My children already asked me about a couple houses that we deliver to. They want to know if the “lady that lives by the house with all the decorations” had a ham. I was happy to share with them that she got a box of milk, fresh produce and a turkey.

Food is love. Love is Living United. There’s always more work to be done, but today, this week, there was enough. If you or someone you know is in need of food, please call our office at 507-373-8670, and we can direct you to the many food resources we have in our county today.

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