MANKATO — Anyone who has taken a walk around town during October knows the sorry state of community apple consumption — rotting apples on the ground under backyard apple trees, fruit hanging on branches until well after the first snowfall.
One group of ambitious Minnesota State University students is hoping to take bushels of apples that would otherwise go to waste and put them into the hands of Mankato’s hungry.
Project Apple, a project by a group of six students in an MSU business class, hopes to collect apples from orchards or the backyards of area residents and donate them to Minnesota State University’s Campus Kitchens project.
Campus Kitchens takes prepared but unused food from MSU residence hall cafeterias and distributes it to the community’s hungry. Thousands of meals have gone out since the program debuted in October. The list of volunteers wishing to help, as well as the number of people being identified as needing its help, continues to grow.
Growth of an idea
The idea was born several months ago when leaders in MSU’s Student Leadership Development and Service Learning department began brainstorming ways to build upon the Campus Kitchens concept.
Last fall, when the program kicked off, faculty member Chuck Cantale offered up the fruit of his apple tree for use in Campus Kitchens meals. From there, the seeds of Project Apple were planted.
Enter the College of Business. Since the beginning of Campus Kitchens’ arrival on campus, the college has wanted to be involved, which fits right in with Student Leadership Development and Service Learning department’s mission of service learning.
Business faculty members worked with service learning staff to develop projects that would allow students in business classes to learn the principles of their major while doing some good for the community.
Project Apple was one of several available to the students in faculty member Brenda Flannery’s management class. Students Dan Byrne, Chad Nelson, Cody Anderson, Mark Newman, Holly Pridie and Qabbale Daddacha were assigned to the project.
None of them really knew each other when they began. That was challenge No. 1: working with strangers. Anderson says he was skeptical at first.
“A lot of these things don’t end up being that much fun,” he said. “This one was different.”
The group set about the task of finding apples, which at first seemed daunting. But once they began looking, they began finding them. Their first find was Anderson’s own brother, whose upper North Mankato home has an apple tree, all the fruit from which has been donated to the cause.
They’ve teamed with Culver’s, which has agreed to let them post displays at both area restaurants asking community members to consider donating apples from their trees. They’ll soon be talking with area orchards, trying to convince them to donate portions of their crops.
Campus Kitchens came to MSU for the first time last semester. A $67,000 grant covers some expenses and the work of a graduate assistant, but most of what the program needs is donated, such as the residence hall food.
It has quickly become one of the most popular volunteer opportunities on campus. Contrary to conventional wisdom, it is not just Greek organizations and other organized student groups sending students to sign up to volunteer (although many Greeks have been). Instead, most of the students who have signed on to deliver or prepare meals have been students unaffiliated with a campus organization who heard about the program and wanted to help out.
Kelly Meier, Student Leadership Development and Service Learning department’s director, said Project Apple is exactly the kind of project college students should be involved in. All the groups that are infusing service learning into their curriculums are taking the next step in education and bringing the real world into a college education.
The College of Business, the Family and Consumer Science Department, Urban and Regional Studies Department and others who have taken this step are giving their students an invaluable experience.
“They are all contributing, all learning what it’s like to be civically engaged,” Meier said. “We are creating better citizens in the long run. What could be more noble than that?”
Project Apple also is giving the students a little bit of practical experience as well. They’ve worked through the “working with strangers thing,” they’ve worked as a team. And Flannery has had them go through each step of the process with utmost professionalism. They even had to prepare for a professional business meeting for their Culver’s partnership.