The Gusties knew it would take between $6,000 and $12,000 to actually accomplish their goal. 

By Jessica Bies |

St. Peter—This holiday season a small group of Gustavus Adolphus College students are attempting to improve the lives of 400 villagers in the Ethiopian kushet of Dekera.

The village is in the African country’s northern region, along a polluted river. There is no source of fresh water, which is why the Gusties, part of a small start-up that sells Doc E’s Life Changing Salsa, are putting their net profits toward digging the community a well.

“There is an end goal here, and if we reach it, we can do something really special,” said the student-run company’s president, Jack Anderson. “And then we move onto our next well.”

Nine months ago, partnering with a relief agency to actually dig a well was little more than a dream. The Gusties knew it would take between $6,000 and $12,000 to actually accomplish their goal.

About 20 percent of their earnings are being set aside for the project, which means they’d have to sell at least $30,000 worth of salsa before making the investment.

Now they have salsa on the shelf at two Lunds & Byerly’s locations, as well as having it for sale on Amazon.

“We’re into the hundreds of dollars on Amazon, which is not the thousands, but not the tens either,” Anderson said.

The students have sold close to 5,200 jars of salsa since the company was started in March, raising more than half of what is needed to dig the well.

Though they originally planned to partner with the charity:water, they’re now teaming up with Water to Thrive, a smaller organization that has been able to get more involved with planning and execution of the project.

They’ve also expanded, introducing two new salsa flavors in August — toasted serrano and ripe olive and roasted tomato and black bean — in an attempt to drive up profits.

It seems like their efforts have been successful; they’ve shipped salsa to several states, including Kentucky, Texas and Colorado, and their product was recently listed on a United Kingdom website affiliated with Amazon.

“We knew we had something that could extend beyond the local community and the people that know us, know Gustavus, know where we go to college,” Anderson said.

That’s not to say they’ve forgotten their St. Peter roots. Hoping to make an impact locally, the students have teamed up with the Minnesota Security Hospital to put together special holiday packs for the salsa.

Patients assemble small wooden crates out of recycled wood, fill them with three jars of salsa, then shrink wrap the entire bundle. When orders are received, they also get them ready for shipping.

Under a contract with Doc E’s Salsa, the patients get paid a fair wage for the work. Matt Johnson, a skills development specialist at the facility, said it is a form of vocational therapy but serves a practical purpose for patients as well.

“One of the biggest things the program does is just prepare the patients for a real-life work setting,” Johnson said. “It allows them to have a bit of a resume, too.”

He said it also allows patients to work toward financial independence and gain an increased sense of dignity and self-worth. The program is voluntary, and one of many forms of therapy they can choose to participate in.

About 80 percent of patients opt in for the training, which typically involves light manufacturing, packaging, assembly and collating.

The gift pack is sold online for $30-$35. (If customers choose to pick up the box at a local retailer, they do not have to pay for shipping.)

“It’s really the perfect gift,” Anderson said. “It’s all packed up and ready to go. You just have to put wrapping paper on it.”

If the students sell 250 more of the gift packs, they’ll have enough to build their first well.

In the meantime, they’re running their own company, which is something few college students get the opportunity to do, Gustavus professor and mentor Paul Estenson said. (The salsa is actually named after Estenson, who developed the recipes for all three varieties.)

Pat Rosvold, another Gustavus student, is working with two student attorneys from the University of Minnesota Law School to trademark the salsa.

Student Olivia Peterson is vice president of marketing for the company and created its website and runs its social media pages.

Rosvold said being a part of the company has real-life payoffs. The students are learning what it is like to run a business.

He and Anderson, who are both seniors, hope to stay involved with the start-up after they graduate but also want to make sure new and incoming students are able to get positions within the company and get the same kind of real-world experience they have.

“You can’t simulate this in the classroom,” Anderson said. “You can’t do a semester-long project and do the same things we have done, even in the same amount of time.”

Source: Mankato Free Press
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