Family Time: When in doubt, donate a backpack

Students are already getting prepared for next school year with help from the United Way of Olmsted County's Running Start for School. An annual community-wide effort, Running Start for School provides pre-K through 12th grade students with necessary back-to-school supplies.

"Learning the content of school is hard enough. As a community, if we can help remove hurdles, like not having school supplies, then we can help set students up to succeed in school, help set them up for greater school success," said Jerome Ferson, president, United Way of Olmsted County. "This is one way to give students a running start to the school year."

Open to families in 11 school districts throughout Olmsted County, to be eligible, students must qualify for free or reduced lunch through their school district. Eligible families will be informed by their school districts on how they can receive school supplies.

"Over 9,000 students are eligible to receive school supplies with Running Start for School. Last year about 4,500 participated," Ferson said. "If you aren't sure if your family qualifies for free or reduced lunch, we have information on our website on how to confirm your eligibility."

In order to provide the school supplies, United Way is collecting folders, washable markers, glue sticks and more, now though July 29. Families can donate school supplies at one of three dozen Olmsted County locations .


"We've worked with the school districts to come up with a list of 15 of the most needed school supplies," said Kris Brewer, community and corporate engagement director, United Way of Olmsted County. "Based on this list and the number of eligible students, we know we'll need around 4,532 backpacks, 2,387 packs of crayons, and 4,431 12-packs of No. 2 pencils."

What the United Way also needs is help — sorting and preparing donations for distribution.

"We have around 500 volunteer slots to fill," Ferson said. "You can sign up for a volunteer spot right on our website. We have companies that send teams of employees to sort, individuals who are willing to help out, families who sign up together. It's really a community effort. We couldn't make this happen without the volunteers and the community's support."

See the sights

Hop on then hop off a Kids Trolley Ride. From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays through Aug. 27, family members can take a Rochester Trolley & Tour Company tour of Rochester (Peace Plaza, Zumbro River, Mayo Civic Center), getting on and off at four fun stops (Silver Lake Playground, Children's Museum, Soldiers Field Swimming Pool, Farmers Market). Cost is $5 per person, free for kids younger than 1. Tickets can be purchased as you board the trolley — cash only. Call 507-421-0573 with questions.

What else?Families looking to add to little more history to their tour should check out the Rochester City & Mayo Historical Trolley Tour. Tours last roughly an hour and a half, and include visits to Assisi Heights, Mayowood Stone Barn and the Mayo Foundation House and stops at the Olmsted County History Museum, Historic Mayowood Mansion, and the Plummer House. Cost is $15, $10 for kids 11 and younger. Tickets available for purchase online, , or at the trolley.


With my little eye


Find all the cool stuff nature has to offer at Wee Wednesday's I Spy – Identifying Things in Nature, 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. July 20 at Sargent's North, 7955 18th Ave. NW. Open to preschoolers and their favorite big person, kids will go on a scavenger hunt in the garden center. Class is $8, $4 for additional siblings, and includes a snack and craft project. Space is limited. Call 507-289-0022 to save your spot.

What's next?Sargent's Gardens hosts Wee Wednesdays the third Wednesday of the month, March through December. The (grand)parent/child classes include hands-on activities, a story and a treat. Upcoming Wee Wednesdays include Bee Happy (Aug. 17), Big Machines (Sept. 21) and Peter, Peter Pumpkin Planter (Oct. 19). Go to to find out more.



Put it together, piece by piece, at Lowe's Home Improvement's Build and Grow Free Kids Clinic, 10 a.m. Saturday at Lowe's, 4550 Maine Ave. SE. Kids, and their favorite big person, will build Marvel's Falcon. Register online at .

What else?Keep your hands and mind busy at a Rochester Community Education summer camp or class, including: Doctor Camp 101 (grades 3 through 5, July 11 to 14) and Young Engineers Camp (grades 3 through 5, July 11 through 14). Go online, , to register.


Book it


Get back to books at Family Storytime with the Rochester Public Library. Held from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday at the Quarry Hill Nature Center pond pavilion (701 Silver Creek Road NE), kids of all ages will enjoy nature-themed stories, songs, puppets and more. Free. No registration. Call 507-328-2303 with questions.

Is there more?The Rochester Public Library hosts a variety of storytimes in July, including: Rainbow Family Storytime (6:30 p.m. July 12) and Peter Rabbit Storytime (10 a.m. July 20). Visit for a complete list of upcoming storytimes.

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