By Joe Garvey

Chelsea Mandello founded Troopster Donation Corp. - with help from Old Dominion University's Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (IIE) - to send care packages to military personnel around the world.

But in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the nonprofit, veteran-owned and -operated organization has launched a national campaign to raise $1.1 million to send 50,000 essential medical kits where they're most needed.

"Our frontline heroes within the United States right now are doctors, corpsmen, nurses, volunteers, EMTs, policemen and firefighters, who are in need of gloves, masks and items to keep them safe during this crisis," Mandello said.

Troopster started its campaign April 7 and raised $42,910 as of April 23. People can donate at this link. Supporters can also donate by texting COVID19 to 855-202-2100 to get a link to donate.

Mandello started Troopster, which is headquartered in Norfolk, while on active duty in 2015. After graduating from Ball State University in 2011, she served for seven years in the Navy and deployed to 13 countries as a photojournalist.

That's where ODU comes in.

Mandello, whose career brought her to Naval Station Norfolk in 2012, initially contacted the IIE's Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC) in December 2015. She had attended a Boots to Business class and determined the center could help her move forward with her idea. Her counselors, Don Miller and Joey Pocan, were impressed with her preparation before her initial counseling session.

"I first met Chelsea at one of the Norfolk Revitalization meetings," Miller said. "Her business plan was already 95% complete and was exceptionally detailed and right on point."

The center worked with her to better market and develop her messaging.

"The VBOC has helped by providing Troopster with multiple avenues of networking," Mandello said. "The classes they offer were a great resource as well."

Troopster has sent more than 12,000 care packages to service members. The organization now plans to use its resources, warehouse and package production capabilities to support health-care providers.

"The VBOC has helped with this recent initiative by sharing our press release and campaign through their network," Mandello said. "They also provided over-the-phone support and helped offer resources for me to reach out to help grow the impact of our mission."

Cherylynn Sagester, the program director of the VBOC, praised Mandello.

"Chelsea is an extremely passionate and driven young woman," Sagester said, "and when combined with the instinctiveness she has to fully utilize all of the resources available to her as a veteran-owned small business here at ODU - and the Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, the Veteran Business Outreach Center and the Hampton Roads community as a whole - the general consensus is she is approximately 25% more likely to succeed than those who do NOT utilize available resources."

Related News Stories

ODU Alumnus Creates Websites to Aid Restaurant Workers

Melissa Corrigan’s Virtual Tip Jars and Restaurant Aid initiatives have more than 60 cities – and counting – participating. (More)

ODU Alum, Perfectly Frank Team Up to Get Food to People During Pandemic

Former football player Satchel Ziffer’s Go Fund Me page is raising money for meals. (More)

Tanner Offers a Hot Minute on Business News

Dean of the Strome College of Business uses his WHRV segments “to be informative in a way that anyone can understand.” (More)