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American Legion, United Way partner to help veterans

The American Legion and United Way of Freeborn County are partnering as a Veterans United program to do what they can to help veterans through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Albert Lea American Legion Post 56 Cmdr. Jeff Olson said he realized there were veterans in need through emails sent to him over the past two months. Olson and his wife decided to find the best way to help, and eventually were connected with the local United Way. 

“We wanted to help our vets out, with coronavirus and everything going on,” Olson said.

Erin Haag, executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County, said the Legion did the legwork of bringing the partnership about, bringing up potential needs and the suggestion of a food drive. Haag said they realized that with certain public centers and libraries closed or limited, there needed to be a more efficient way for veterans to get paperwork filled out. Olson said veterans with questions about financial benefits or support they usually receive can reach out with questions, or if they need assistance in filling out any forms. United Way’s new location on Y.H. Hanson Avenue has a setup that would enable the organization to provide in-person services while maintaining social distancing guidelines, Haag said, and United Way looks forward to furthering its relationship with local veterans. 

“We want veterans to know that they’re not alone. Not only is there a community of their peers wanting to reach out, but the community in general would love to help as well, they just need to know how,” she said. “While we can’t make the challenges of transitioning into civilian life go away completely, we can help.”

Haag said while the partnership has been in the works for almost a month, it was formally announced Monday. She said the United Way has received some positive comments and a few calls to sign up to volunteer. She’s hoping the partnership shows others that the organization wants to be a bridge for others in the community. 

“We’d like to understand more what the needs are,” she said. “As a community organization, we’re uniquely positioned to develop new programming, if we have an understanding of what those needs are.”

The organizations will host a popup food pantry for veterans from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 27 in the north parking lot by United Way of Freeborn County, 2610 Y.H. Hanson Ave. in Albert Lea. For those unable to attend the distribution, American Legion Riders will deliver boxes of food to their doorsteps. Those wishing to request deliveries can call 507-373-8670. The food will be provided by Channel One Food Bank and community donations. Donations can be dropped off at United Way of Freeborn County or the Albert Lea Family Y, 2021 W. Main St.

In addition to the food pantry, United Way and American Legion volunteers will help those looking for assistance in ordering groceries or having them delivered if they’re homebound due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Volunteers are also being recruited to help do chores such as mowing lawns, cleaning gutters and other home maintenance for those in need during deployments of immediate family members. 

Those interested in technology assistance or help with filling out benefits paperwork can call the United Way at 507-373-8670 to set up an appointment. Those looking to volunteer with the Veterans United program can call the same number. 

“I just hope that the veterans actually use this, and that they’re not afraid of anything,” Olson said. “We’re here to help, we’re here to support them. That’s the goal.”

“We realize that some veterans may want to only speak to UWFC staff, and remain as anonymous as possible. Others may prefer speaking directly to a peer veteran, one who’s been in their shoes. Either way, we’re on standby, waiting to help,” Haag said. “This is a situation where ‘if you build it, they will come.’ We may not know the full extent of the need, but our community has shown a passion and a heart for supporting those that have served us. We envision this program growing and evolving as we learn more about what veterans need in our county.”


About Colleen Harrison

Colleen Harrison is the photo editor at the Albert Lea Tribune. She does photography and writes general-assignment stories.

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