Live United: The beginning of United Way’s busiest season of the year

Published 8:45 pm Friday, September 16, 2022

Live United by Erin Haag

My home is surrounded by trees. Unfortunately, they’re mostly walnut and ash trees, so I don’t get a colorful display of leaves each fall. Yet, driving down the road toward my house, I spied a tree that was a lighter shade of green. Slowly but surely, the leaves are turning yellow, and soon they’ll be on the ground, blowing across the yard. Already there’s a gazillion walnuts everywhere, staining the hands of my children who can’t not pick them up. In a few weeks though, I’ll walk out, and they’ll all be gone. I’m convinced the squirrels have a final gathering party, because while they’re busy collecting there’s always a day when the walnuts disappear overnight.

Erin Haag

Leaves, walnuts and school buses can only mean one thing — it’s fall. It’s my favorite season, but goodness. It’s also the busiest season. Our campaign doesn’t have an official start date, but we’re off and running. This year, our theme is Give Where You Live — because that’s what we’re all about. Our focus is right here on Freeborn County, creating safe, welcoming and thriving communities. 

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Give Where You Live — this is a great start to update on the Ukrainian families that arrived this week. They arrived here safely, and I’m looking forward to meeting them eventually. Our community answered the call and shared what they had — everything from furniture to appliances to home décor. For the final touches, there were welcoming baskets of fresh organic produce and a jar of flowers, including the sunflower to represent Ukraine. Pantries and refrigerators were stocked and a stuffed unicorn made its way to a little girl’s bed. 

Wondering what’s left? It’s the things you don’t realize you need until you need to go find it. A fly swatter (they’re so bad right now!), flashlights, basic tool sets and first aid kits. Consumable goods such as laundry soap, baby wipes and cleaning supplies. Oh and alongside the flies, I’m fairly sure there was a mosquito hatch on Tuesday, so bug repellent would be welcome. Aside from these types of things, we’ll be accepting small items until further notice not only for the current families but for future families in need. 

On other United Way business, it’s been a busy week. On Tuesday, United Way and SEMCAC co-hosted the Homeless Response Team meeting, re-establishing a group that has not met since the pandemic. We’re moving out of the “putting out fires” mode and taking a look at what strategic goals we can establish. This group will be meeting monthly as we develop those goals. The HRT is comprised of representatives from community organizations that encounter those facing homelessness. 

Then on Thursday evening, United Way was represented at the Early Childhood Open House for Albert Lea Area Schools. Nikolle and I provided resources to families and doled out temporary tattoos of cute crabs riding a surfboard. It was a great turnout with lots of resources, networking, a magician, and a snake from Rad Zoo that I declined to hold. 

Nikolle and I wrapped up the evening by placing our order for the Welcome Pantry on Tuesday. We are anticipating larger numbers than previously, for a variety of reasons. We’re hopeful that we struck the right balance of not too little and not too much food. We’ve also partnered with Public Health to offer flu shots and the Bi-Valent COVID-19 Booster. To take advantage of either of these, shoppers should bring their Medicare, Medical Assistance or Medicare Advantage Card. The Welcome Pantry will be on Tuesday, Sept. 20, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the Albert Lea Armory. Our August pantry saw long lines, which proved to be difficult for many. We are aware of these challenges and have some changes in our layout to try to alleviate these challenges. 

All this — and the Winter Gear Drive boxes are going out in two weeks! With all these things happening, we’re welcoming as many volunteers as we can get, including for Tuesday’s Welcome Pantry. To find out more information about any of the topics I brought up today, give our office a call at 507-373-8670. We’d be glad to sign you up for a volunteer shift, help you bring a workplace campaign to your place of business or provide resources. Until then, thank you all for the response to my call to action last week — I’m proud to be in a community that knows what it means to Give Where You Live. 

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