Giving Union Families a Leg Up in Times of Need

“I love the diversity of work that I get to do each day,” says Rachel Loeffler-Kemp, the Community Services Director at the Head of the Lakes United Way in Duluth and an AFSCME Executive Board member out of Local 3558. For Rachel, giving back to the community and supporting union families is what keeps her workdays meaningful and exciting.

The AFL-CIO Community Services Program, a national partnership between the United Way and the AFL-CIO, exists to provide resources, services and assistance to union workers and their families during times of hardship. “In Minnesota, there are AFL-CIO United Way partnership programs based out of Duluth, Minneapolis and St. Paul,” Loeffler-Kemp explains. The focus of the program, she says, is supporting working families. “We know that if we can help support them and the issues they face, our whole community is stronger.”

The spirit of giving back and building community is a part of the program’s mission. From coordinating the annual Duluth Workers’ Memorial Day Service and Solidarity Pancake Breakfast to streamlining the National Letter Carriers’ Food Drive volunteer BBQ to coordinating an Emergency Member Assistance Fund for union members in times of need, the program provides crucial year-round services to union families and the communities where we work and live.

The giving back really picks up during the holiday season. Each year, the AFL-CIO’s Community Services Committee coordinates a kid’s holiday party at the Duluth Labor Temple. Loeffler-Kemp takes the lead in planning and hosting the free event. Union families have the opportunity to make crafts, take pictures with Santa, eat a healthy lunch, read with Clifford the Big Red Dog, decorate cookies and more. While the kids are busy, parents and guardians are able to discreetly pick up holiday meal baskets and gifts donated by local unions and community partners.

“We coordinate the meal baskets with local union grocery stores,” Loeffler-Kemp says. “Lots Several of our local unions donate funds cash to offset the cost. Beyond that, she adds, many locals host toy drives, book drives and fundraisers to raise money specifically for the event. “It is amazing to see the kid’s faces when they walk into the holiday party. Their eyes light up. Working with their parents and guardians and connecting them with the resources they need is very rewarding. You can see their eyes light up too.” 

While the holiday season may be their busiest, the Community Services Program, a partnership between the AFL-CIO and the United Way helps union families year-round. “At any time during the year, a member could call contact us and utilize our Emergency Member Assistance Fund and/or get connected to local resources. We assist union members with anything from helping them with a FAFSA form to finding emergency housing,” Loeffler-Kemp explains. She says she loves helping union families, and that the job fits right in line with her AFSCME values. “I love that AFSCME empowers members to get involved in their communities in a variety of ways. It’s about solidarity. We all need each other. Our union and our community are only as strong as our most vulnerable member.”