Live United: Being mothers has prepared us for new roles with pantry

Published 8:45 pm Friday, July 21, 2023

Live United by Erin Haag

A mama came in with another woman. Mother, sister, extended family, friend, I’m not sure, but they juggled the two babies while they tried to overcome a language barrier to tell me that they didn’t have their shopper card. We used a translating app, and I tried to get the information needed so I could look their numbers up. I spied a familiar face in the shopper line, a participant in our co-design process. She readily stepped forward into the role of interpreting. While the women started writing down their information, the baby fussed, and I held him and offered him a bottle. He grabbed it tight and quieted instantly, and watched me carefully. His mama was called into the next room, and she glanced at me, smiled and went on while her companion stayed with me as she finished up getting a new copy of her card. One mama recognizes another.

Erin Haag

A woman had grocery bags and was headed out the door. We offered help and she snorted and laughed at us and said, “Oh please. I’m a mom. I got this. This is nothing compared to a car seat.” Nikolle and I laughed back and we agreed. “We get that, but we gotcha if you need it.” She smiled and headed out the door, our moment of mom solidarity over.

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We joke a little bit about how our team mothers each other, we mother our volunteers a bit and we mother our clients to a point. It’s a joke, but it’s true. Yesterday, Heidi was supposed to go on break, and she got caught up with volunteers. She needs a break. She tells me she just wants a five and a bag of chips. I tell her, take your five and go buy a 9volt battery for the scale and get some food. A little later, I found Nikolle. Had she taken a break? Had she eaten her share of the pizza that we had decided to order together? Nope. I plopped a pizza on a plate, and I took her arm and all but shoved her into her office. She sat down and then started to get back up, saying she wanted a pop. Nope. Sit yourself back down and I’ll get the pop because I don’t trust you to make it back for your actual break. She laughed because one mama recognizes another.

We’ve added another mama to our team. I’m happy to announce that we’ve hired Rosemary to help us out through the end of September. Her title is “Program and Event Support Staff,” which is a fancy way of saying she’s going to be doing a little bit of everything. Over the next 12 weeks, as we polish up our routines, we’ll be developing what is the best fit for her role. We’ve grown so much we could easily hire three to four full time people, but well — that would destroy the budget. So we’re taking these 12 weeks to examine what we need, and where her strength is and where she’ll find her joy. That’s important to us — important to our culture, finding our joy in our work. In future weeks, I’ll share more about her and how her role is developing.

We have crazy good skills among us that have nothing to do with who we are as mothers and everything with our lived experiences, our education and our whole selves as being human. When I look at us though, I see the compassion, empathy, gentleness and tough love and boundary-setting traits that serve us so well as mothers, translate really well to our roles now.

A couple of volunteers listened to us last night, some of our struggles and how they could maybe help in some specific areas. We were told we’re doing a good job.

Coming from him, that meant a lot. I know we’re doing a good job, and I am proud of that. I know we have a long way to go to make this sustainable, but we’ve made pretty good inroads to doing so. Know that I’m not talking about just the Welcome Pantry, but for the United Way in general.

Fall is coming quick, and with that comes the start of presentation season. I’m inching away from this “program role” and back into my official role as executive director. Rosemary is a big part of that, and working to set her, Nikolle and Heidi up for success is my focus right now. Nikolle reminds me, “we’ll be fine, go find the money so we can keep doing what we’re good at.” She’s even sending me grant possibilities, so I guess I know what I’m supposed to work on.

So if you’d like to join our team of volunteers, give us a call at 507-373-8670. I’ll hole up in my office and keep telling stories to people, to grant funders, to our board of directors and let them do their thing. We’d love to have you join us, even it’s just once a month. Thank you to all those that are cheering us on, showing up to do the work and helping us take care of our community.

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