Live United: It’s the last week to help with United Way’s Jingle program

Published 8:45 pm Friday, December 9, 2022

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Live United by Erin Haag

This week, I’d like to share some of the family stories from Jingle, a holiday giving program.

Erin Haag

“There has been much illness in my home for many, many months. I lost my job because there was no one but me to take my husband and my children to all of their doctor appointments and to take care of them.”

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“In winter it is very cold — Do not have money to buy warm clothes. I am pregnant and cannot work. My husband just started work after not working due to his health issues. Got laid off again last week, no income in the house.” 

“I live alone with my daughter. We just moved into an apartment and am hoping I can pay all the bills in the future. I have car issues and not enough money to get it fixed. I struggle with money, I get no child support. I do work and try to get as many hours as I can. I struggle with anxiety and depression and am working with a doctor to get my mental health under control.” 

“Our daughter was diagnosed with a neurological disorder … this left her unable to walk or stand. I had to quit my job to take care of her … We became homeless … I refuse to stay down! … In October we moved into our home … the past almost 10 months was a major struggle, but we stayed together as a family. Our 11-year-old son has been the strongest and he’s the youngest. I have an amazing family. We appreciate all the help from everyone.”

“We are struggling with money. We had a savings of $5,000 that we saved up for a vehicle. After the purchase, we found out we were sold a bad vehicle and could not return it. We took it to two mechanics and were told by both that the car was not safe and it is undriveable. We lost all of our money and cannot afford a lawyer.” 

What strikes me is the practicality of the gifts requested. Bath towels. Pots the family can cook stew in. Crib sheets and a crib mattress. Warm clothing, winter gear is the most frequently requested gift. Cleaning supplies is the second. One family asked for a toilet brush for Christmas.  

The “wants”? The wants are saved for the children. “They love to draw.” “She loves Lilo from Lilo & Stitch.” A young pre-teen and her teenage sister ask for perfume. I imagine these girls — these girls that have come with their parents to volunteer — I imagine them standing next to each other, trading perfumes and delighting in being a little more grownup. 

I have eight families on my adoption list right now. Eight families that are dealing with everything from learning English, to major medical surgeries, to a sudden significant loss. Barriers include lack of family support, mental health, even an amputation of a limb.  

I knew this would be emotional — it has been the last two years. This year, with the parameters of the direct referral program … we really got a snapshot into how desperate some of these situations are. These families aren’t necessarily looking to have “a nice holiday,” they’re using this as an opportunity for survival. I encouraged one family (via their provider) that asked for shampoo — what type of shampoo? What’s your favorite brand? Nope. “We’re grateful for anything. Anything is okay.” They’re so focused on being grateful and taking anything, some families are afraid to ask for specifics. 

If you’d like to adopt a Jingle family, or contribute toward the adoption of one, give our office a call at 507-373-8670. We’re hoping to get the gifts returned to the office by Thursday, which doesn’t give us a lot of time. I’ll be in the office on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., as backup for the winter gear distribution, so feel free to send me an email or leave me a phone message. I might not be able to answer the phone, but I’ll monitor the voicemail before I leave and return calls. It’ll give you the after-hours message, but if you press “3” that voicemail will get to my line, and it goes straight to my email. (I just tested it myself, I promise!) My email: 

As a side note — any basic needs that we’re able to serve outside the Jingle program, such as quilts and coats, we get that filled as much as possible. We’re not waiting for them to be adopted to fill those particular needs if we are able to meet them. I hear that the website has been a little off and on with the Community Needs page — Give it a try, but if it doesn’t work, it’s not an operator error. Hopefully that will be fixed soon, but in the meantime, our biggest needs are men and boys coats — all sizes. We have exactly two men’s coats on the rack, and neither are very warm looking. 

As always, thank you for standing alongside us and keeping up with our stories. We appreciate all those that have given so generously already. If you’d like to make your gift, you can visit or by mail at PO Box 686, Albert Lea, MN 56007. 

Here’s to making sure that we have families that can move beyond the survival of the holidays … and into the joy and Jingle of the season. 

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