Live United: The needs are many in the community — but so is help

Published 8:45 pm Friday, November 18, 2022

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Live United by Erin Haag

This week, I talked to a mama on the phone. She came to our Winter Gear Distribution and was able to find most things, but she still really needs a pair of size 8 women’s boots for her daughter. I heard her voice shake as she said, “I checked to see if they had some at the thrift store but I just…” and she let her voice fade away, because what else was there to say?

Erin Haag

This week, I walked into my friend’s office and asked for a hug. She immediately got up and hugged me tight as I cried. I was hurting for someone who needed $450 to get medication. Because she missed two doses, her life was in danger.  

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This week, winter arrived with a blast. Our phones rang off the hooks, four to five calls coming in at the same time. Area human service providers were looking to provide their clients with what they needed to stay warm. Our referral list had been zero, and suddenly it became a page long. Our stock is depleted. 

This week, a mama brought me back snowpants she had picked up at the Winter Gear Distribution. They didn’t fit her daughter like she had hoped. Not only did she bring them back, but she included a thank you note and baked a cake for us. 

This week, three men had signed up to volunteer for the Welcome Pantry. When their ride was canceled due to the snow, they walked an hour in the dark and slippery night to keep their commitment. They spent the next two hours lifting us up when we were tired, loading food, helping us pack up and moving pallets. By the way, these men need coats. They’re on our list of needs to fill. 

This week, a senior woman and her neighbor brought bags and bags of handmade quilts. She shared with us that she’s so thankful for the food through the Welcome Pantry. She says she doesn’t want to move out of the area to be closer to her children because she has her village here, and that we’re part of it. 

This week I lost my voice as I stood in front of the crowd waiting for the Welcome Pantry. Number 66 in line used her loud and clear voice to explain that people could take a number and wait in the warmth of their cars. She told me, “I’m 66. I’ll handle this until it’s my turn.”

This week, my board of directors volunteered for different projects, offered to take vacation days to spend time working with us, and showed up on an icy night to haul boxes of food. It was made clear to me that as important as our work is, the wellbeing and safety of Nikolle, Heidi and I is essential, and they’ll support us however we need it.

This week, my son asked me why I looked so serious. I told him that I was a little overwhelmed by the people needing things this week. He snuggled into my lap and wrapped his little body around me and said, “let me fill you up with mommy magic so you have more energy to help.”

After this week, is it any wonder that my heart’s a little raw? I’m reminded of a poem by Warsan Shire. “Later that night I held an atlas in my lap, ran my fingers across the whole world and whispered where does it hurt? It answered everywhere, everywhere.” 

People step up every day when they learn of the need. I’ve seen it time and time again. When my little boy was snuggled up to me, his daddy walked into the room and said, “Hey! Where’s my hug?” The response was, “It’s right here, you just had to ask.”

So here I am world. I’m asking. I’m asking for help on behalf of all of these people in need and more that we don’t know about. I’m sharing the moments of hope and inspiration that go along with those needs, because that’s what keeps us going. That’s what keeps others going. 

Our Community Needs Page is updated with the full list of needs for the Winter Gear Drive. Please visit or call our office at 507-373-8670 to get the updated list. You can donate — with or without a designation — by visiting or by mail at PO Box 686, Albert Lea, MN 56007. 

Our hearts are raw, but with each offer of help it heals a little more. The world may be hurting everywhere, but by standing strong together, we can lift each other up and ensure that people are warm, are fed, are cared for. The three of us can’t do it alone, so please join us. For those of you that are working alongside of us, giving of yourselves, your time, your talents, your voice, your financial support — we thank you and appreciate you. Know that those that you are helping feel the same way, and they’re giving back in the ways that they can — by baking, writing notes, volunteering and sharing their stories. And this is why — even on a week when our hearts are raw, I love my job, my place in this community and find the energy to keep asking. 

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