Live United: Thanks for giving where you live and help us reach more

Published 8:45 pm Friday, November 11, 2022

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Live United by Erin Haag

Last week, I rattled off All. The. Things. Except it wasn’t truly all the things, because there’s no way to encompass everything that happens. There’s lots more that goes on behind the scenes, and as always, there’s the collection of moments that remind you of why we try to make All. The. Things. Happen.

Erin Haag

The Winter Gear Drive & Distribution is in full swing. With over 25 drop box locations, volunteers and staff have been busy checking the boxes and bringing in the coats. More volunteers have come to the office to put together coat racks, hang up the coats and organize things. Even more volunteers came to our first two distributions to help do intake and assist as shoppers. 

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Wednesday evening, I had an appointment at Mayo Clinic. As I walked up to the building, a family was getting out of their car and dropping off their coats in the drop box located in the foyer. I loved seeing the mother hand each child a coat to help carry them over. I could see right away that they were sizes and types of coats that we really needed — good winter ready coats including some plus sizes for adults. I told the older son, “Thank you! I work there, and we really need those coats.” He looked a little alarmed that a strange lady was talking to him, but hopefully his mama explained. I picked up those coats on my way out and they quickly went out the door to fill the needs. 

Thursday morning, I played outside with my kids and dog while waiting for the school bus. After the bus headed down the road, I sat on the porch enjoying the weather. Later that morning, a team of volunteers and I were working on distributing food to various agencies — we had accepted a donation of frozen yogurt and shared them with The Children’s Center, Senior Dining through SEMCAC, the Albert Lea Family Y and of course our hot meal sites such as Loaves and Fishes and the meals at Trinity and First Lutheran Church. I scheduled to pick it up at that time, thinking it’d be warm — let me tell you, that handling 3-gallon containers of frozen yogurt when that cold front quickly moved in was not fun. 

I wasn’t expecting the cold front until overnight, so I was lucky I had my fleece in the car. I wasn’t the only one taken by surprise though. The Winter Gear Distribution started at 3:30, and one of the first families came through with a mom and her daughter that looked about 10. The daughter had a light sweatshirt on and was shivering, saying, “it was warm this morning!” 

She headed out the door nicely prepared for the even colder weather coming. Lots of families came through Thursday evening. Many went home with their winter gear, but we unfortunately weren’t able to fill all the needs. I haven’t had the opportunity to run the numbers yet, but Nikolle gave me a heads up that there’s several unfilled needs. I hear that there’s a need for the type of boots that can zip up, needed for a child with disabilities. I’ll be working over the weekend to compile our specific list for the Community Needs webpage and social media to get the word out. You can check for the specific sizes -needed or give our office a call at 507-373-8670. 

It was a busy week for sure, but a little different kind of busy than I’m used to when it comes to event weeks. Due to a head cold, I didn’t work at the Winter Gear Distribution on Saturday. For our distribution Thursday evening, I had to leave early for a meeting with our partner from Foundation for Essential Needs. (FFEN). FFEN is providing project support for the Welcome Pantry’s permanent home. We’ve got a potential space being considered, and we’re working on drafting the layout to present to the board of directors for consideration. So, cross your fingers on that one! 

It feels a little strange not to be working the distributions. It’s also a hallmark of how far we’ve come. Heidi and Nikolle are great event leaders, and we’ve got a core group of volunteers that are experienced with how things go. Some have been with us from the beginning, providing us with valuable feedback, sounding board and giving ideas. The investment of time that these volunteers and staff provide allow me to step back a little bit and focus more on the administrative side. Once I asked Nikolle if she needed help with something and she said, “No. We got this. Go away and write a grant or something so we can get more money so we can keep doing this.” I suppose she’ll be happy to know that I took her advice and submitted two grants. 

While we have a great group of core volunteers, we’re always looking to add more to our ranks. We know that some of our volunteers will be hunkering down over the winter, or heading South for warmer weather. There’s lots of opportunities for getting involved, and lots of opportunities to find the fit that’s right for you. Do you work best one-on-one? I can work with that. Prefer to complete a project on your own time? We’ve got ideas for you. Give our office a call at 507-373-8670 to find out ways you can be involved. If you’re already involved with us, know that we appreciate you every single day, and that it truly makes a difference. Thank you for giving where you live and helping us expand our capacity and reach more of our neighbors in need.  

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