Turning Tables and Fighting Hunger

Minnesota State Mankato students, alumni, faculty and staff have stepped up in a variety of ways to help their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, including in the vital area of food insecurity. 

Among the campus community members who have given back during the pandemic are Bella Lam, a 2018 Public Health Education graduate, and Chandrasekhar Valluri, an assistant professor in Marketing.

Food entrepreneurs, including Coconut Whisk’s Maya Lam and Myles Olson (pictured here)  have turned the tables and are donating products to those struggling to find regular meals.

The pandemic affected Coconut Whisk like many others—it experienced supply chain issues and a drop in sales. But that didn’t stop Lam and Olson from posting a message on social media directed at families in need due to school closures, knowing many children depend on the meals they receive at school.

“From there we started getting a lot of messages, way more than we expected,” Lam said. “The coolest part was how one of our customers reached out and said they wanted to sponsor a package for someone, and that led us to open up a donation link to raise money.”

Coconut Whisk has given out big boxes of its mixes to 60 families and also made donations to Food for Life Global, a nonprofit vegan food relief organization.

Chandrasekhar Valluri, an assistant professor in marketing, contributes food from his business, Infuzn.

Similarly, Valluri and his two business partners, Ananth Kollengode and Sudharsan Iyengar, have been busy giving back during the pandemic. They committed to donating 1,000 pounds of food to area communities from their Pine Island-based company, Infuzn. The company makes, delivers and distributes Indian-inspired dishes and products for home and commercial use.

“It all started with a GoFundMe campaign. Our customers and area benefactors graciously supported our desire to serve the distressed and those in need,” Valluri said. “We have donated more than 795 pounds of cooked meals to organizations and front-line workers in Pine Island, Rochester, Winona and surrounding areas.”

Some of Infuzn’s food donations have also gone to Campus Cupboard, which provides food to Minnesota State Mankato students who need it. The company is donating 100 meals over the course of four weeks.

“I was learning more as a faculty member about student concerns, especially concerning some of the international students who weren’t able to go home during the pandemic,” Valluri said. “As a community member of the University, when you see or hear of situations where people are in need and you have some capacity to be of assistance, it goes without saying.”

Lam agreed, saying that she and Olson feel good about doing their part and ingraining the philanthropic spirit in the company’s values. 

“I feel like during times of crisis you can either just stay stuck and feel helpless, or you can find a way to contribute and help your community however you can,” Lam said.