“United Ray” receives Excellence in Volunteerism Award; UWNEMN nominates Erspamer for MAVA award

United Way of Northeastern Minnesota (UWNEMN) is proud to announce that longtime volunteer Ray Erspamer was awarded the Minnesota Alliance for Volunteer Advancement (MAVA)’s Excellence in Volunteerism Award this week in recognition of his years of commitment to UWNEMN, its partner agencies, and its programs.

Erspamer served on UWNEMN’s Board of Directors from 1999-2008 representing his employer, Hibbing Taconite Company. Through Hibbing Taconite, he served as a “loaned executive,” receiving paid time to run the annual United Way employee giving campaign at Hibbing Taconite, earning the moniker “United Ray.”

Upon his retirement, Erspamer’s dedication to UWNEMN only increased. For more than 10 years, Erspamer, often joined by his wife Debbie, has been integral in the delivery of several UWNEMN programs.

Erspamer began traveling weekly to Bed Bath & Beyond stores near Minneapolis and in Duluth to obtain donated overstock products, creating what is now UWNEMN’s Comforts of Home program which provides household essentials to local families and individuals in crisis. Today, the Erspamers travel multiple times a month to local Walmart stores to supply the program with products.

In 2011, UWNEMN launched its Buddy Backpacks program to provide weekend meal kits to local students at-risk of hunger. Erspamer became – and remains - the lead volunteer for the program on the Iron Range, delivering boxes of Buddy Backpacks to schools across the region. The program has grown consistently since inception and now serves more than 1,000 children each week during the school year.

“We often say we don’t know what we would do without Ray; he truly is at the heart of what makes the Buddy Backpacks program what it is today,” said UWNEMN Resource Development and Events Director Elizabeth Kelly who nominated Erspamer for the MAVA award. “The program’s impact, reach, and consistency are made possible in part because of Ray’s dedication to UWNEMN, Buddy Backpacks, and the children in our rural region.”

MAVA presented the award to Erspamer on October 12th at its statewide award ceremony held at Second Harvest Heartland in Brooklyn Park, Minn. The award recognizes volunteers throughout the state who have distinguished accomplishments and have shown extraordinary interest in the area of volunteerism.

Erspamer has been a recipient of both UWNEMN’s Lifesaver Award and Lifetime Lifesaver Award.

“We are grateful not only for the support of volunteers like Ray but opportunities like this to both recognize those volunteers and celebrate volunteerism,” said UWNEMN Executive Director Erin Shay.