UWNEMN’s COVID-19 response on the Iron Range

by Shelley Valentini, United Way of Northeastern Minnesota executive director

Through my experience with United Way of Northeastern Minnesota (UWNEMN), I have seen every day the positive impact our local nonprofit agencies and UWNEMN’s in-house programs have on the lives of my friends and neighbors. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have noticed others in our community have come to see what I see – it has become painfully clear how critical these programs and agencies are to our region.

When news broke of school closures, our office was flooded with inquiries about Buddy Backpacks – UWNEMN’s program that provides weekend meal kits to children at-risk of hunger. I am proud to say our local schools and staff have risen to the occasion to ensure that all local children continue to receive the food they depend on at this time.

This means our staff of six is packing the weekend meal kits – a job usually accomplished by a team of 60 volunteers – while practicing social distancing and taking every hygiene precaution we can. I am inspired by and grateful for the creative ways our local schools have found solutions to get these kits to the 1,000+ children who need them – and of course, to our small team of dedicated delivery volunteers who continue to bring the kits to the schools each week.

Our staff has also received questions related to food, health, rent, education, childcare, and more, so we are working around the clock to compile up-to-date information on our agencies, programs, events, and other resources to provide to anyone who needs it. All that information can be found on a COVID-19 resource page on our web site.

We realized that it was necessary to create a UWNEMN COVID-19 Crisis Fund to bolster the resources so critically needed at this time.  This special fund will have no administrative costs associated, so 100% of funds we receive will go directly to our local agencies and UWNEMN programs that are assisting those directly impacted by this pandemic. Individuals, companies, and foundations have already begun to donate to this fund.    

During my United Way career, our organization and board of directors have successfully created and distributed crisis funds like this several times.  This is something we excel at – raising funds, assessing needs, and distributing resources to the right organizations or programs that are directly assisting individuals in need.  So that there is no confusion, funds raised in UWNEMN’s territory will stay local to help those in our communities.    

A link to donate to this fund can be found on our resource page (click here). Donations can also be mailed directly to 608 East Drive, Chisholm, MN 55719.

As always, anyone seeking assistance also has access to the 24-hour statewide 2-1-1 helpline. Dial 2-1-1 or click here to connect with a United Way representative in our state who can connect you with local agencies that can meet your needs.

In the interest of the safety and health of our staff and those we serve, our staff is working from home.  Regardless of where we work for the time being, however, trust that we are working harder than ever to do our part – and supporting others doing their part – to empower healthy lives, help children succeed, and stabilize the lives of families and individuals in our region.

UWNEMN's mission is "to unite and focus our communities in creating measurable results to improve people's lives and strengthen our families." This unity is needed right now. Please practice patience, thoughtfulness, and preventive measures in the days and weeks to come to keep yourselves, your families, and your neighbors healthy and safe.