Former high school students’ nonprofit still helping homeless four years later

When a couple of teenagers started an organization in 2015 to collect toiletries for those in need, they had no experience in dental or nonprofit sectors —or even a driver’s license.

Mission: Toothbrush since has organized drives and donated personal care products worth more than $65,000 to local soup kitchens and homeless shelters.

The idea to start the organization came one morning when Joshua Farahzad, now 20, brushed his teeth. He thought about the value of ordinary items like the toothbrush he held in his hand.

“There’s nothing extraordinary about it,” Farahzad said in a recent phone interview. “But (a) toothbrush is something that has a lot of health impact. (Poor oral hygiene) leads to all sorts of things.”

Farahzad then went to talk to his friend Hugh Ferguson at Ward Melville High School, where they were juniors at the time. “We were just kinda bored and not stimulated by classes,” Farahzad said. “We were itching to do something.”

So they began calling a few local soup kitchens.

They learned that the soup kitchens “would have plenty of food to last sometimes for months,” Ferguson, 20, recalled in a recent phone interview. “But pretty much they would run out of toiletries, toothbrushes, toothpaste and diapers. It was like a legitimate problem that was not being focused on.”

That’s when the two teenagers found their niche.

“We learned so much and gained a lot of confidence … by standing outside the stores and having to approach people and approaching them with confidence and a smile,” Farahzad said. “It also made me realize how fragile these ideas are. If you don’t set up drives and stand outside the stores, no one else will do it.”

The two have gone on to college, during which they tried to launch two rockets into space. The leadership torch has been passed down to the fourth generation. Hundreds of students, often chauffeured by their parents, have volunteered in the drives.

“It taught me a lot of new things, like how to file taxes, just becoming more and more of an adult,” said Katherine Liu, 17, one of the nonprofit’s current presidents and a student at Ward Melville, which is in the Three Village Central School District.

On a recent sunny Sunday in September, Eric Wang, 15, and David Wu, 13, of Setauket were among about two dozen teenagers who were carrying on the mission by collecting donations —one drive at a time.

“The first time was probably the worst because you were nervous,” Wu said of his experience approaching strangers outside a Stop & Shop in East Setauket.

The first person he approached simply walked away.

“You need to accept rejection sometimes,” said his friend Wang, who had told himself to “just smile and say these words” before approaching someone. “You start to get more used to it.”

Over three hours, the group collected $450 worth of toiletries, including a few items donated by Phyllis Stone, 69, of Mount Sinai.

“They are not asking for money, just items. They are giving their time, too,” Stone said. “It’s something small. But it can make a big difference in someone’s life. Everybody needs a little bit of help.”

Since 2015, the nonprofit has collected more than $65,000 worth of personal care items, including:

9,000 toothbrushes

13,000 ounces of toothpaste

120,000 milliliters of mouthwash

50,000 yards of dental floss

Diapers, wipes, menstrual and shaving products

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Two people dead after plane flying from Rocky Mountain House crashes

The Transportation Safety Board will be investigating

Annual Chili Cook Off raises money for Red Deer Hospice Society

The key to making a great chili is preparing the sauce first,… Continue reading

Central Alberta Film Festival set to return Oct. 14-17

Central Albertans will be able to spend four days at the movies… Continue reading

City of Red Deeer seeks ‘long-term, stable’ funding

The City of Red Deer supported the City of Edmonton in its… Continue reading

Montreal demonstrators demand climate justice a year after Greta Thunberg speech

MONTREAL — Demonstrators gathered in downtown Montreal on Saturday to protest planetary… Continue reading

Officials report just one active COVID case in Nova Scotia, no new case Saturday

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia is reporting no new cases of COVID-19, leaving… Continue reading

Demonstration in Fredericton as private abortion clinic to lose its doctor

FREDERICTON — A doctor who runs a private abortion clinic in Fredericton… Continue reading

A mind-boggling tale of idiocy

Some people have the IQ of a piece of second-hand furniture

Wilkinson aims to be B.C. premier after cabinet role, working as doctor and lawyer

The B.C. election is Wilkinson’s first as the Liberal party leader

First Nations police services look to throne speech pledge for higher, stable funding

‘I won’t be happy until I hear two words: royal assent’

No winning ticket for Friday night’s $50 million Lotto Max jackpot

Jackpot for the next draw will grow to approximately $55 million

Tiny airborne particles may pose a big coronavirus problem

NEW YORK — At a University of Maryland lab, people infected with… Continue reading

Most Read