Guest Column: United Way busy in response to community in recent weeks
Live United by Erin Haag
My little girl turns 8 this week. I’m not quite sure how that happened, but it did. We have plans for fishing, baking muffins and a birthday parade led by fire and police departments. We’re fortunate that we’re able to do those things.
We all know that not everyone has been able to do this. Every single day, the United Way staff, board of directors and volunteers are dreaming up ways to meet the needs in our community. It’s hard. It’s overwhelming. It’s stressful. Daily, I’m reminded of our purpose and our commitment to our community to stand united. I’ve found that the goals that United Way of Freeborn County has established over the past year are now more critical than ever. The plans we had for the next six months are all happening now. Just for fun, we threw in a few extra things. Again, it’s hard, it’s overwhelming. It’s also thrilling and affirms that we’re headed in the right direction.
We moved into a new space in May. Our new address is 2610 Y.H. Hanson Ave., the former ALEDA space. It’s across from Lou-Rich, and at the other end of the block from Mrs. Gerry’s.
We quickly unpacked, or at least shoved boxes out of the way, and set up shop. We started a mask collection drive for Freeborn County Public Health and the Emergency Operations Center. Not only did we have wonderful groups such as the Hallelujah Quilters step up to make hundreds of masks each week, but we also had caring people who checked in with me personally. One lovely lady even tracked me down at an appointment to give me a mask she had asked her friend to make — specifically to make it easier for me with my hearing aids and glasses.
While we collected masks, we also worked on partnering with the Albert Lea Fire Department on the pandemic assistance line and establishing a disaster relief fund called the Safety Net Fund. Then came the volunteer coordination for the county. We currently have a list of approximately 50 volunteers who are delivering meals, grocery shopping and having conversations with homebound community members.
We figured out people were getting food from the food pantries, but they didn’t have pots and pans to cook in. We heard from people struggling with isolation, living alone and not being able to safely go out. One person asked if we had any movies and a VCR or DVD player to watch them on. We thought that was a great idea, and we put out the call. I’m happy to report we received some, and we’re putting them to great use. We’re still accepting any kitchen items and any movies, along with working VCR/DVD players if you’re still doing spring cleaning.
Then we took it up a notch and partnered with the American Legion and the American Legion Riders to start a Veterans United program. This program is designed for veterans to receive assistance with food, chores, paperwork and more. It’s early days yet, but our motto is, “if we build it, they will come.” Our first veteran came to us for assistance with paperwork this morning.
Then, we took a deep breath and partnered with Channel One Food bank to receive emergency food boxes. Wednesday we hosted a pop-up pantry. American Legion Riders came and helped us hand out 275 boxes of food to community members in need. It was sobering to see the line stretch down the street and around the block. I walked up and down the line of cars, reassuring people we had enough food. I heard stories about how they usually can get by each month, but this month they need help.
When people ask me how I am, and how things are going, my eyes usually glaze over a bit. I don’t even know where to start. I couldn’t pick just one topic to talk about for this column — because it’s all important. How do you choose what to talk about today? So just imagine me saying this all in one breath — and you now know a very little bit about most of the major things we’ve been working on. (Let’s not talk about me trying to get our phone lines transferred over to our new location.) Over the next few weeks, I’ll give more details about each of these projects and share more about what the future holds for us. If your curiosity about a particular project is too great to contain, by all means, give us a call at 507-373-8670. Leave us a message if we don’t answer — I promise, we’ll call you back. In the meantime, stay safe, stay healthy, stay positive.
Erin Haag is the director of the United Way of Freeborn County.