Our View: Running Start needs help to meet ambitious goal

The first day of school is more than a month away for most students, but the United Way of Olmsted County is busy making sure kids have everything they need.

The Running Start for School program, which provided free backpacks and school supplies for nearly 3,800 students last year, plans to help at least 1,000 more children this fall. Running Start's goal is to furnish a backpack and supply kit for 4,862 students — 65 percent of the 7,480 students in Olmsted County who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.

"It's a classic example of what we can do as a community to ensure that we're providing for those who aren't able to have what they need," said Deneene McDonald, community impact specialist for the United Way of Olmsted County. "It's amazing how this project captures that marvelously."

The program is off to an early start as Longfellow Elementary School, which follows the alternate 45-15 schedule, opens next week. Running Start will equip nearly 140 Longfellow students but will continue its campaign for the rest of the summer, mobilizing hundreds of volunteers and community partners.

To meet its ambitious goal, Running Start needs donations, more drop-off sites and hundreds of volunteers.


Donations can be handed off at multiple "drive-and-drop" sites throughout the county. Among the items most needed are backpacks, two-pocket folders, spiral notebooks and No. 2 pencils.

Cash gifts are welcome, McDonald said, adding that "a dollar given to us goes much further. We're able to negotiate and stretch those dollars much further than you're able to." Running Start can equip each student for about $45.

So far, about 40 businesses, organizations, faith groups and individuals have agreed to host drive-and-drop sites, but McDonald said the campaign could use as many as 120 sites. Registering to be a drop site is an easy process on the United Way's website. Once approved, the United Way will provide a collection bin.

Even if even if you can't afford to donate supplies or money, Running Start still can use your help. It's a labor-intensive operation that needs 460 to 500 volunteers to meet this year's goal. Of the 912 time slots for inventorying the donations, assembling the kits and the distributing the supplies, McDonald has filled just 224.

Running Start is facing upcoming deadlines as the annual "Stuff the Bus" drive is set for Aug. 2-3 at Wal-Mart South in Rochester. Sorting the donations will happen Aug. 5-9 at the United Way office. Assembling the kits is scheduled Aug. 12-16 at the United Way office. Finally, the supplies will be distributed Aug. 19 at Bonner Elementary in Stewartville, Aug. 20 at the Byron Education Building and Aug. 21-22 at the University Center Rochester Fieldhouse in Rochester.

The first day of school is an exciting time for students, and they all deserve the simple joy of opening new packages of pens and pencils and filling their desks with new, colorful folders and notebooks.

Making sure that happens for 4,800 kids is a tall order, but many hands make light work.



Go to or call 287-1958.

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