Live United: Come see what the United Way is all about at event

Published 8:45 pm Friday, November 17, 2023

Live United by Erin Haag

Some weeks are a bit of a slog. There’s no way around it. With any nonprofit comes reports. Reports for the state, reports for the IRS, reports for grants, reports and reports. I might be squinting for quite a while now. Then, other random things happen that just slow us down and take our time. Our Facebook page has been unpublished twice, and that situation isn’t resolved yet. Thursday night, I found out our internet was blinking in and out, causing some issues with volunteers signing in and out when we’re trying to train them … I just shook my head and said, “That’s a Monday problem.”

Erin Haag

Our Facebook page is an issue. It’s my highest source of engagement with the community, with these articles being the second highest. It’s a terrible time of year for this to happen, too, because yesterday was Give to the Max Day. Giving Tuesday is right around the corner. Social media is the highest response rate for a call to action. For Winter Gear Drive. I’ve got some support with this now, but it takes time. In the meantime, if you are on social media, make sure to check the Facebook page for the Welcome Pantry since we’ll post updates there for a bit.

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I share a lot about our shoppers and clients and the moments of humanity. This week, I really want to focus on our volunteers. Our volunteers are the heart and soul of the place. They’ve truly taken this big empty space and filled it. We have two baby dolls donated by a volunteer in our waiting room. Children have been playing with those dolls, feeding them imaginary food from the play kitchen. I walked through, and a third baby doll had been added by someone else. I walked by our registration office to see Butch working with our volunteers on how to sign up for new shifts on their phones. It was a revolving door all evening. Randy walked through the pantry carrying a bundle of square black posts. I had no idea what they were. Later, I learned that one of our carts had broken, and he took home the posts to fix them, brought them back, and the cart was back in action. Art, our line manager, had an appointment. He brought in a new volunteer recruit and trained him on how he manages the line. He found his own replacement before I knew he was going to be gone. Frank fits right in, and we’ve enjoyed having him around. Art came in later with two other buddies and was proudly giving them a tour. Another volunteer wasn’t going to make it on Thursday. At the end of the night, he showed up to say hello and give another volunteer a hat that he picked up as a “just because” gift. A volunteer brings his own wagon to help with groceries and take his own groceries home. His wagon kept breaking. Randy comes to the rescue again. Nikolle snuck a few snapshots of them sitting outside, fixing up that wagon.

We have a diverse group. Retired volunteers looking to give back. Adult volunteers under supervision, looking to complete their hours. Teenagers who are completing their hours. Volunteers who don’t speak English. Volunteers with disabilities. Volunteers come in dancing to their own theme music. Those supervisors are so inspired by what they see that they come back on their off hours.

We deeply appreciate each and every one of our volunteers. We miss them when they’re gone, and we worry about them if we don’t hear from them for a while. We’re not your local neighborhood bar like Cheers, but we’ve become this place where volunteers stop by to say hello and pitch in at the last minute, or they grab a coffee and a snack and then go on home, knowing that we’re covered.

A volunteer told me Thursday evening that her friend asked if it brings her down and makes her sad to see all the needs. The volunteer told her friend that it does the opposite. It lifts her up. She’s encouraged, she’s hopeful. Hearing that renews my faith in what we’re doing — knowing that we’re not only supporting those in need but providing this place where you can witness it in action.

It all meshes to create a sense of belonging, even more than I ever dreamed it could. I have seen welcoming; I have seen unlikely friendships develop. I walk through, fussing about one thing or another, and I get told, “Go on girl and do the radio show. We got this handled.”

Do we still need volunteers? The answer is yes. Because those volunteers travel, go to hockey games or deal with illness and injuries. Sometimes, they’re just tired and need to focus on their house for a bit. Friday was a great example. We needed volunteers to help us set up for the Winter Gear Drive. With such a huge turnout last week, we were concerned about having the time to set up, manage the line and prepare for whatever Friday might bring. Our volunteers were already tied up unloading a truck with a meat donation, out of town or working the Winter Gear Drive distribution that evening. Rosemary worked to put out the call — but if you’re not on the list, we don’t know who to call or email for last-minute support. To volunteer, visit our website at or call us at 507-373-8670.

I hope you’ll join us this evening, Nov. 18, from 3 to 7 p.m. Our Fall in Love with United Way event is an open house style, where you can come and say hello, drop off a pledge, take a tour, eat some pie and sign up to volunteer! You’ll learn about all of our programs and ways you can support them. You’ll get to see the progress on the landscaping and the ramp and ask me all the questions you’ve been wondering about. Join us at the old Streater’s Building at 411 S. First Ave. Hope to see you there!

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