The start of every week at Valley Youth Center in West Duluth offers kids a hot meal that volunteers Susan Poupore and Chris Tuttle spend nearly all day preparing.
“And it’s good food, too,” said agency director Russ Salgy, noting Monday’s tableful of baked barbecue chicken. “They’ve made brussel sprouts and the kids have eaten them.”
The after-school program located in Laura MacArthur Elementary School gives Salgy and his staff comfort to know that at least one dinner a week in the attending adolescents’ lives is balanced and nutritious.
On Monday, before the meal was served, Duluth’s Koresh Lakhan and his wife, Jill, stopped in to drop off a $1,000 check to Valley Youth Center. During a time when charitable organizations are competing with one another for dollars, the gift put a smile on Salgy’s face and left him to say, “I wish there were more people like him.”
Usually happy to give back without recognition, Lakhan, a retired elementary school teacher in Duluth, couldn’t avoid the media’s gaze this time as Poupore, serving as tipster, couldn’t let his latest generosity slide.
“They’re very valuable people and volunteers in our city,” Poupore said of Lakhan and his wife.
Earlier this month, Lakhan, 72, was briefly mentioned in the News Tribune for being one of four people in the state to receive the 2016 Virginia McKnight Binger Unsung Hero Award given by the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits along with the McKnight Foundation.
There were more than 120 nominees for the awards that go to people who improve their communities in ways that go under the radar. The honor comes with a $10,000 prize - money the Lakhans are spinning right back out into community agencies.
“I was overwhelmed by the award,” Koresh Lakhan said, “and my wife and I decided we should continue to do what we do and share it with the community.”
In addition to the Valley Youth Center, the couple is gifting parts of the award money to Duluth Bethel to help with its drug and alcohol treatment programs; Loaves and Fishes’ Dorothy Day House for people who are homeless or struggling; Koresh’s own elementary school in the South American nation of Guyana; and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Duluth, of which the Lakhans are members.
Lakhan was recognized by the McKnight Foundation for the way he helps out across the city - driving the St. Scholastica Monastery’s nuns to their doctor appointments, teaching students about Hinduism and other Eastern religions, cooking for an array of fundraisers and being involved in international exchange programs in the city.
Following his brief stop at Valley Youth Center he was off to St. Scholastica, where he was scheduled to speak with students about Buddhism.
“I’m in love with almost all religions,” he said. “They’re fascinating things with so many simple values. It’s hard to choose just one.”
A one-time co-owner of the India Palace restaurant in Duluth, Lakhan agreed that he generally shies from the spotlight - but under it, it was important he didn’t slip away without sharing some of his secrets.
“I believe I reflect the sunshine that’s around me, meaning the people,” he said, explaining that somebody before him planted the birch trees in his yard that he and his wife are pleased to wake up to every morning. Others built the schools that educated the couple’s three children and are now educating their three grandchildren.
“My belief is that there is a mystical universe that exists,” he said. “The universe is in me and I want to be one with the universe. There is a mystical union of everything.”
To hear Lakhan tell it, the donations and the time spent giving back are as much responsibility as generosity.
“It’s a moral imperative,” he said, “to do what’s best for our community and universe.”