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High schoolers help homeless get a start, with hygiene kits

In New York City, homelessness isn’t uncommon. In fact, with unemployment on the rise, the number of homeless New Yorkers is steadily climbing from 60,000. In such a bustling city, passersby often walk right past their neighbors in need; those who do stop often reach into their pockets, drop a few quarters in a plastic cup, and carry on with their day.

Sam Salcedo, SustainABLE Start’s head of finance and development, with “starter kits.”

For Chloe Trujillo and Victoria Buendia-Serrano, two high school students at the Dwight School on the Upper West Side, spare change wasn’t enough — they had to take action. For weeks, the girls talked to their street-homeless and sheltered neighbors to determine how they could make the biggest impact. Then, SustainABLE Start was born.

Chloe Trujillo, president of SustainABLE Start, with the supplies.

SustainABLE Start is a nonprofit organization that empowers New York City’s homeless by providing high-quality, eco-friendly hygiene kits in shelters and on the street. Each starter kit contains oral care (toothbrush / toothpaste), body care (wet wipes / deodorant / socks) and COVID care (mask / sanitizer), and women’s shelters receive boxes of feminine hygiene products.

Chloe Trujillo giving hygiene kits to the Bowery Mission.
Another job well done!

Though they’ve only been operating since March, SustainABLE Start has touched the lives of more than 2,600 people and will help 5,000 more by mid-December.

Members of the community have already rallied around the growing team of 80-plus teenagers to help them fulfill their mission: Victoria’s Secret, Dr. Bronner’s and Knock Knock Give a Sock are just a few of the names that have contributed to the nearly $280,000 in products that have been redistributed for free.

Laura with a free hygiene kit.
Hayes with a starter kit.

On the receiving end, 10 partnering shelters have helped distribute the kits: In Lower Manhattan, the Bowery Mission has helped give out kits to more than 850 adults and families, and The Door in Soho has done the same for 200 homeless and runaway youth. Additionally, 60 kits have been distributed to homeless individuals throughout Downtown’s streets by the SustainABLE Start’s fleet of teenagers.

Each kit contains an uplifting notecard.

To help grow SustainABLE Start’s impact in Lower Manhattan, you can recommend a local shelter to receive their hygiene kits. Alternatively, you can sponsor a kit for your neighbors in need for $3.75 — as winter approaches and shelters fill up, good hygiene is needed more than ever.

To learn more and donate, visit or follow them on Instagram @ sustainablestartny .


  1. Odile Anderson Oddo Odile Anderson Oddo November 14, 2020

    Wonderful article published by my brother, Lincoln Anderson! I am so proud to be a Dwight School alumna and see that the tradition of community service still carries on, especially during these unprecedented times of need. God bless Dwight School and its faculty, especially Dr. Spahn, my favorite headmaster!

    • Victoria Buendia-Serrano Victoria Buendia-Serrano November 14, 2020

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Ms. Anderson. I’m so proud to be part of the generous Dwight community. I’m very grateful to your brother for taking the time to respond to my email and publish this article.

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