By Chelsea Royer
Tammie McMillen has been a volunteer with United Way in Grays Harbor for six years. She laughingly explains that she was “drug into” volunteering one day by a co-worker. Half a decade later, Tammie is the one doing the recruiting. With a big laugh and warm heart, Tammie finds enthusiasm in every aspect of her work. She loves her community, making a difference, and banding together with neighbors and friends.
Tammie says, “I’ve lived here ten years and I’m amazed at the amount of banding together that happens in times of need. It’s a true community.”
A transplant from the Midwest, Tammie believes Grays Harbor is unique in that people are so willing to give. Tammie says it’s not that people don’t help one another in other states, but she laughingly explains, “The pioneer spirit is newer in the people of Grays Harbor than in the Midwest.” She says this was especially apparent after the big wind storm of 2007 when people were helping neighbors and strangers recover from power outages and damage. This unique fortitude is what makes her volunteer work so rewarding – other people’s willingness to give makes her work that much more enjoyable.
United Way is a parent program to a host of United Way Offices. According to Nora LeBlanc, the Executive United Way Director of Grays Harbor, her job is more about giving support and funds to pre-existing, local non-profits than it is about starting a project of their own. However, ever year United Way of Grays Harbor (UWGH) sponsors a coat, blanket, and shoe drive to benefit schools and community members in need. Though Tammie loves distributing items to local families and individuals, she is especially excited this year about the work they are doing at local elementary schools.
Banding together with school counselors, UWGH has received a list of shoe sizes for children in need at their local school districts. Though last year they were able to bring in 377 pairs of shoes, this year the project has taken on a broader focus and increased zeal. Though the names attached to the shoe sizes are not disclosed, these “wish lists” of shoe sizes somehow makes the child a little more real to the giver as they go to make tailored purchases for either a little boy or girl. UWGH doesn’t want to make giving difficult, however. Financial donations are always appreciated, in which case, the United Way workers and volunteers, like Tammie, will shop for appropriate shoes themselves.
Tammie’s heart is tender towards the people of our towns who are down on their luck. She finds it incredibly rewarding to give on a regular basis, whether that’s giving her sunglasses to a homeless woman on the corner or helping out with the coat and blanket drive. Tammie recalls one year, on distribution day, where a young couple arrived to get a coat for their toddler. Tammie ushered them over to explain that, not only did they have a coat for their child, but also for adults. Tears sprang to this couple’s eyes as they learned someone cared enough to make sure they kept warm that winter as well.
“We have a lot of homeless people here, a lot of people in need,” says Tammie. “Because this is a small community, it’s hard for people to blend in and stay hidden. Here in Aberdeen, those people are not always strangers. It could be a friend of a friend, this could be one of your relatives standing on a street corner and this is your opportunity to make your community a better place when you volunteer.”
Kym Summerville is head of the coat and blanket drive. Her challenge to the community is to not just give one pair of shoes, but to think about adopting an entire school. She and Tammie encourage people to do what they can, no matter how big or small, but also think about going the extra mile. From people who have sewn together handmade quilts to those who have knitted hats and scarves or donated seven bags worth of brand new coats, the community has proved it is capable of making big differences in small ways.
The drive is ongoing through October 31. Barrels for donations can be found in front of most banking establishments and will be collected for distribution day on November 11. For what to give, United Way suggests new tennis shoes and new or lightly used coats and blankets. Don’t give anything you wouldn’t wear. If you are interested in taking the additional step of volunteer work, visit the volunteer website to get started.