Pandemic nonprofits promote the greater good

MVHS students start nonprofits during the COVID-19 pandemic


Raagavalli Karumanchi

Photo by Raagavalli Karumanchi – Student run nonprofit Donate Essentials donates masks to frontline workers

Kripa Mayureshwar

After frequently talking to her grandparents over the phone during quarantine and noticing how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected senior citizens emotionally, sophomore Saanvi Mantripragada founded the Say Smile Initiative — a nonprofit intended to help the elderly cope with loneliness under the shelter-in-place orders.

“I realized that many seniors don’t have family and friends to call them and check up on them to see how they’re doing,” Mantripragada said. “So my friends and I created Say Smile where we pair up seniors with our volunteers to call them a couple days a week.”

Photo by Saanvi Mantripragada – A volunteer from Say Smile Initiative paints a card for a senior

Mantripragada says talking to seniors has also benefited her. She recounts a conversation that she had with a 95-year-old, during which the senior spoke about their experiences during a war in Germany. 

“It opened my eyes to a lot of things that are happening around the world that I simply wasn’t aware of,” Mantripragada said. “When I’m talking to these seniors and making cards for them, I’m realizing that I’m helping somebody in need and it really makes me happy.” 

Similarly inspired to help those in need, sophomore Raagavalli Karumanchi founded Donate Essentials — a nonprofit dedicated to making and donating items such as face masks, cards and ecards to healthcare workers. After watching her parents help their friends in India handle pandemic-related issues, Karumanchi decided that she too wanted to partake in easing her community’s struggles.

“We should help our community during these uncertain times,” Karumanchi said. “Especially with the inflation of [the prices of] many items that we use in our daily lives like Lysol and other sanitary products, I think that it’s important to provide them to our community.”

Photo by Raagavalli Karumanchi – A collection of handmade masks are ready to be donated to frontline workers

Through social media, both Karumanchi and Mantripragada were able to get diverse audiences involved with their organizations. Similarly, junior Suryaansh Dongre also took to social media to advertise Tutors Zone — a nonprofit he volunteers for which provides students with free tutoring by other students.

Dongre says that apart from word of mouth, Tutors Zone was advertised through WeChat, Whatsapp and Instagram. Unlike Donate Essentials and Say Smile Initiative, Dongre says that COVID-19 did not directly inspire Tutors Zone. 

“I wouldn’t say our organization was structured in response to COVID, but Tutors Zone was formed during the pandemic so most of the original business strategies were centered around online tutoring,” Dongre said. “After the pandemic ends, we are looking for ways to start bringing back in-person tutoring once people get more comfortable.”

Despite being created as responses to COVID-19, Karumanchi and Mantripragada express interest in continuing with their organizations even after the pandemic by altering their services to suit an in-person environment. Similar to Dongre, Mantripragada would like to move from online to in-person volunteering.


“We hope to go to the senior centers in person and host activities for them and entertain them,” Mantripragada said. “I think this would be a lot better [than doing it virtually] because [physically] interacting with seniors instead of calling them is a lot more effective for seniors to really enjoy it.”

Dongre believes in the importance of volunteering, especially during times like these where it can contribute to society’s well-being.

“Volunteering is a good way to spend time,” Dongre said. “You get hours you can put on college app[lications], but of course, that’s secondary to the social good. A lot of [student nonprofits] are created in response to a problem in the community, and even though a lot of people see that problem as an accessory to the nonprofit, I think it ends up making a positive impact. Whether you’re providing free medical consultations or giving face shields to people in hospitals, it does help the community.”