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Live United: There are many ways to give back through volunteering

Live United by Erin Haag


We did it folks! We had a bonus round of the Pop Up Pantry last week, and handed out 400 boxes of food. Freeborn County Public Health was able to give out 13 flu shots to those that wished to have it. We were overjoyed to learn that many had already received their flu shot for the year. Our total is now 59,263 pounds of food brought into the county. When I came back into the office, I had a wonderful message on my machine with someone that was filled with gratitude. I’m currently trying to figure out how to capture that voicemail and turn it into a voiceover for a video; it perfectly personified our “why”.

After the Pop Up Pantry, I packed my family up, and we headed north for some family time. For three days we explored Gooseberry Falls, Split Rock State Park, and beach-hopped to Iona’s Beach and Black Beach. As we left the area, we noticed the trees on the hills that had such beautiful colors were now bare, thanks to the high winds we experienced this week. Seeing those bare trees really brought home the need for our upcoming project.

Erin Haag

Our Winter Gear Drive is in full swing. Drop boxes located around town are being delivered within the week. You’ll find those at the Albert Lea Family Y, Plymouth Shoes, Whimzy Toys, St. Theodore’s Parish & School, the Dave Jensen Farmer’s Insurance Agency, and more. For a complete list of dropboxes, and information about distribution days, visit our website at http://unitedwayfc.org/wintergeardrive or call our office at 507-373-8670. We also are so thankful to those companies that are hosting internal employee coat drives such as Ventura Foods, Lou Rich and Almco.

Last year, we were able to serve over a thousand families, and we worked directly with social workers at the area schools to deliver coats and winter gear where it was needed the most. The day that I bought 25 boots, snow pants and coats with monetary donations was a fun one, even if I did get several raised eyebrows at my overflowing cart.

People ask what I can accept. My answer is that we accept most anything winter related, or even fall/spring jackets. This includes blankets, infant carseat covers in the shower cap style, heavy sweatshirts, warm children’s pajamas, and more. Socks and underwear need to be new in the package, but all other items may be gently used. I also have questions about other coat drives. There are other coat drives that happen in the community. They can be run by individuals or corporations looking for a holiday giving project. If you’re wondering, our coat drive is simply called the United Way Winter Gear drive. Our boxes are white, and will have a flyer on it that clearly states United Way. If you don’t see the United Way logo on it, it’s not the same coat drive.

I have a request for those of you that like to shop. Before you rush to the store to pick out gloves and hats and mittens for the children, please talk with me first. My current project is working with a specific non-profit wholesale company, so I can stretch our community dollars by buying in bulk. Remember the power of UNITED? Sometimes that looks like pooling our resources so we’re able to buy the exact sizes and exact types that our area social workers let us know that we need. Want the joy of seeing the snowcoats? I’ll need volunteers to help unpack and hang them up. While I don’t have “take home” options, there are several opportunities for people to volunteer safely. Please don’t hesitate to give me a call to discuss what your comfort level with sharing your time and talent. That number is 507-373-8670. Often you’ll have to leave a voicemail, but I usually am able to return a phone call within a day. Let’s make sure that everyone is warm, so they can enjoy all the beauty that Minnesota has to offer this fall and winter.

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