Live United: We are all really just the same when you stop and think

Published 8:45 pm Friday, December 16, 2022

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Live United by Erin Haag

Nikolle told me a story yesterday that I knew I had to share. She received a call from a gentleman who needed a coat. When talking with him, she learned his current coat had several holes in it, but he knew a 3X was going to be hard to find. He had several barriers to accessing the coat if and when we did find it — he shared a vehicle with a family member, and he talked about how they were trying to be careful and not drive when you needed headlights, because a headlight was out. That limited their driving time to daytime.

Erin Haag

Surprisingly, we hear this a lot. Clients can only come to us in the daytime because they don’t want to get a ticket for driving without a headlight. Yet, they can’t really afford a headlight. Out of curiosity, I asked my husband, and he told me they are about $30 a piece. Thirty-dollar headlights afford a significant barrier to accessing a free coat to keep someone warm.

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Back to Nikolle’s story. She told me that they worked through several options, but she knew he participated in a program near us, and we knew the coordinator of the program. She asked, “Do you just want to pick it up when you come to *name of program*.” “Oh that’d be great!” The gentleman then said, “Thank you so much for helping people like us.”

Uh oh. I know our Nikolle, and I knew what was coming. Yep. Nikolle was in storytelling mode. I must note that when she acted out the “thank you,” complete with lowering her voice to match his type and tone, I mentally had the voice of Elvis in my head.

Here’s how that exchange went.

“Like us? What do you mean, like us?”

“Well, like us. Poor people.”

“No no no no. I work for a non profit. I’m poor, too, ya know! There is no “like us.” We’re the same. We’re the same.”

“Oh. Yeah I guess. Well, I love you then. How’s that?”

“That’s better. We’re the same.”

That exchange right there fully illustrates the true heart of our work. We’re the same. We fight hard every day to give our clients dignity and empowerment and a feeling of equity. We hug and nod our heads at the mamas who are groaning about their children busting out of their clothes because we’re mamas with children who don’t stop growing. We’re the same. Some of us have utilized the same programs that our clients are using and have relationships with our nonprofit partners as clients in the past. Our most devoted volunteers and donors are usually donating because they have personal experience — they’ve been there and it’s their way of giving back.

A Jingle mama wrote about her struggle with depression and anxiety. A donor mama who struggled with depression and anxiety adopted her and her little one for the holidays.

There’s very much a feeling of being in the “home stretch.” That may be true for 2022, but our work is far from over and will keep going into 2023. Winter Gear Drop boxes will be up through the first week of January. Workplace campaigns are underway and wrapping up. We had big dreams in 2022, and I’m proud to say that we accomplished quite a bit. Tuesday marks our last Welcome Pantry Distribution of 2022, and I hope our last mobile distribution. We’re currently in lease negotiations for a new space, and finalizing our equipment list. I got an updated bid for refrigerators and freezers just this morning!

It’s not too late to join the cause. Our mailing address is PO Box 686, Albert Lea, MN 56007. As long as it’s postmarked in 2022, it’ll count as a 2022 contribution, even if it’s received and cashed in January.

If a particular cause calls your name, it can be noted on the memo line.

Next week, our office hours will be 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Monday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesday (Welcome Pantry is that day) and 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday. We do still encourage calling before coming out, as we’re determined to get coats and winter gear needs out too all the schools before Christmas break. School social workers are hustling to check in with all their families. You can call us at 507-373-8670 to check on our hours. Some evenings, I’m at the office waiting for my children in one activity or another, so at times that’s an option as well.

For those that have joined in our work this year — thank you. There’s so much that I can’t encompass in one article, and it’s nothing like seeing it in person — or even pictures. Stay warm, stay safe and have a wonderful holiday week.

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