A student idea, nurtured in Dwight’s Spark Tank incubator program — SustainABLE Start — has rapidly grown into a successful non-profit providing eco-friendly hygiene kits to New York’s homeless.
Founded by Chloe Trujillo ’21 and Victoria Buendia-Serrano ’23, this inspiring student-run service organization gained the attention of Manhattan’s leading group of local newspapers, which includes Our Town, The West Side Spirit, Chelsea News, and Our Town Downtown! Click here to read the article.
Chloe and Victoria, together with their Dwight leadership team members, Olivia Wang ’21, Phillip Fuhrman ’21, and Nina Hissnauer ’23, have expanded the roster of SustainABLE Start volunteers to include over 80 students from Dwight, other high schools in New York City, and impressively, in Colorado and Florida through friendships and word of mouth. The word is most definitely out — some students want to start SustainABLE Start chapters at their own schools! Additionally, a senior at Dominican Academy here in New York, Samantha Salcedo, has joined the SustainABLE Start leadership team.
Helping Others in Sustainable Ways
SustainABLE Start is dedicated to providing people living on the street and in overcrowded shelters — those at the highest risk of disease who have limited access to health care — with products to help them care for themselves and to help curb the spread of disease. Kits contain hand sanitizer, reusable 3-ply masks, wet wipes, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, and socks among other items, including a hand-written note with an uplifting message and a guide of where to find resources for food, clothing, etc. As the name of the non-profit suggests, sustainability is an important focus. The team has forged relationships with eco-friendly product producers, including Crystal Deodorant, and a like-minded partner, Knock Knock Give a Sock, to help garner goods and reduce the cost of making kits. Currently, over half of their brand partners use sustainable manufacturing or eco-friendly materials, and the team aims for everything to be entirely eco-friendly by 2022.
In addition, the organization itself is designed to be a sustainable force well into the future. Chloe and Victoria, now Spark Tank veterans, achieved this with the help of Spark Tank’s panel of judges and mentors. Working through the incubator’s development cycle, the duo gained guidance on how to develop a business plan, create an advisory board, garner donations, market their efforts, and much more. Along the way, they also received a Spark Tank innovation grant from The Dwight School Foundation, as well as a Spark Tank Service Challenge grant designed to give students who want to make a difference in their local and global communities during the pandemic an extra boost.
Originally, SustainABLE Start was conceived in 2019 to help people who are homeless make it through the cold winter months by distributing hats, gloves, and blankets, but this seasonal focus limited the impact Chloe and Victoria wanted to have, so they pivoted to address a year-round need. With the onset of COVID-19 came the inability to distribute hygiene kits in person, so they pivoted yet again to partner with homeless shelters, enabling the team to reach more people. To date, SustainABLE Start has donated over 3,000 kits with 30,000 products, touching more than 2,600 individuals in need, bringing to life their mission statement: “empowering and protecting New York’s homeless through good hygiene.”
Last weekend, SustainABLE Start invited members of the Dwight community to join them in assembling 5,000 kits. Some were distributed to shelters throughout the boroughs — click here to see a map of their locations — and others will be distributed on the street this weekend through giveaway events SustainABLE Start is aptly calling “Making Spirits Bright.”
Finally, we extend lion-sized congratulations to all the students on the SustainABLE Start team for their deep commitment, resilience, and extraordinary community service. We are so proud!