Albert Randsborg and Chloe Trujillo setting up at E Houston and Bowery where we gave out 400 kits by the Bowery Mission. Photo by Dominique Bastos

By Alex Carter

Homelessness has been a New York City quandary since the days of the Great Depression. This year especially, the pandemic has left many unemployed, evicted, and seeking refuge. Residents do what they can to help—food drive here, loose change there—but high-schooler Chloe Trujillo wanted to do something more substantial.

On a cold night this past winter, Trujillo and her friends weren’t sure how to get back home to her apartment in New York City. It wasn’t until a random act of kindness exhibited by a homeless man was she then able to find the train station and return home safely. Stricken by the man’s kindness, Trujillo knew she had to repay the act, “He probably needed to worry about where he could sleep safely, but he was focused on helping [us].” She and her friends picked up products from the dollar store and began distributing them on the subway during their commute to school. Thus SustainABLE was born, a nonprofit organization, run by over 80 high-school students, supplying America’s homeless with hygiene kits.

Within weeks, SustainABLE created starter kits for homeless shelters within New York, which included 10 essential items, consisting of reusable masks, sanitizer, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, and menstrual products. These kits were distributed throughout the city in early March, helping and protecting the 80,000 homeless men and women by promoting good hygiene. These kits were a savior as the first wave of the pandemic started, overwhelming the city of New York. Thousands lost their jobs, their homes, and were forced to seek refuge in shelters.

To help keep costs low, Trujillo and her team partnered with businesses who wanted to participate in helping the most vulnerable, “Money is tight right now, in all areas of the government, so we began working with more companies that are able to give us products.” Through fundraising and corporate partnerships, over $300,000 worth of products were redistributed to shelters. The organization also relies on public donations to help fund their hygiene kits. As a result of the resounding support from businesses, including Victoria’s Secret, as well the community, the cost per kit averages between $3-4.

Chloe Trujillo (founder/president) with 600 kids. Photo by Dominique Bastos

The original goal was to raise $10,000, but when that was achieved rather quickly, Trujillo turned to the shelters directly, determining which items were needed the most. Communicating with the shelters allowed the team to customize kits to suit the needs of the patrons, “Originally, it wasn’t supposed to be about hygiene, it was supposed to be more about hats, gloves, blankets and things like that, but that’s seasonal,” said Trujillo, “I wanted to make sure if I start something, it would have an impact all year.” Many products, like deodorant, menstrual products, and other basic hygiene essentials, are not supplied by the shelters. The team wanted to ensure the products they were giving were essential and straightforward.

Although Trujillo wanted to help people as much as she could, she did not want to have a negative environmental impact, she admits, “Many of the products in the kits are traditionally wasteful.” To counter this, the businesses SustainABLE has partnered with all have an eco-conscious aspect to them: “some use ethical labor, sustainable packaging, or conscious transportation,” reveals Trujillo. Currently, 60% of brand partnerships are with sustainable companies, the goal is to increase that to 90% by 2022.

The leadership team, lead by Chloe Trujillo, who directs the rest of the 80 volunteers. Left to right: Phillip Fuhrman, Olivia Wang, Chloe Trujillo, Nina Hissnauer, Samantha Salcedo. Photo by Lake Weiss

Not only that, the products in the kits themselves are environmentally friendly. SustainABLE strives itself on being just that, and wants to be as non-impactful as possible. This means reaching out to companies who believe the same thing. As a result, they are able to offer natural deodorants and other eco-friendly products. For the young volunteers, “Having the smallest impact on the environment is important,” Trujillo explains, “the more sustainable products we are able to offer, the more sustainable we become and the less impact we have.”

Trujillo hopes that her pre-pandemic plans of having community meet and greets will be able to occur once restrictions are lifted. In the meantime, SustainABLE is working diligently to get their hygiene kits to the ones that need them the most; over 9,000 have already been distributed. Trujillo’s success within New York garnered nation-wide attention, and now with chapters all over the world, SustainABLE’s 80+ student volunteers are able to help even more individuals rebuild their self-confidence and to help foster a sense of community, one neighbor at a time.

To learn more and donate, please visit sustainablestartny.org

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