Founder's Note...

As the founder and executive director of Project Ropa, I would like to share with you how the organization came to be.

I started Project Ropa nearly seven years ago in part because a family member, whom I hold dear, has faced the immense challenges of mental health issues and chronic homelessness. Witnessing his struggle and the barriers he encountered, including being denied basic services because of his physical appearance, was a catalyst for our organization’s founding and its commitment to address this injustice.

I began by volunteering with a charity in Los Angeles that helped formerly homeless individuals find employment. I learned that the search was made more difficult because so many of these people lacked clean everyday clothing, shoes and accessories, as well as work outfits, that were the right size and style for their individual needs.

I also learned that the charity was overwhelmed by donations of clothing, shoes and accessories that they were not in a position to distribute. When I started talking with other charitable organizations in LA County, I realized that many were in the same boat. I kept hearing from staff that they wished they could get the donated items into the hands of those who desperately needed them, particularly well-fitting clothes that might help people find and keep a job. But that role was simply beyond their capacity.

So most of these donations wound up in at brick and mortar nonprofits that did make clothing available to the homeless but often with limited hours and restrictions on who could take what. Making matters worse, they usually offered only a limited selection, and the clothing was frequently wrinkled or stained or not the right size or style.

It was around this time, in the fall of 2016, that I read about a mobile shower service for the unhoused that was created by an organization called Lava Mae. It had launched in San Francisco a few years before and was about to expand to the Los Angeles area. This sparked my idea to start Project Ropa and its Mobile Clothing Closet service. The goal was to provide not just clothing to the homeless, but also dignity and respect – and the opportunity to regain a sense of self-worth.

Given that one’s physical appearance should never be a barrier to essential services, support and compassion, Project Ropa’s Mobile Clothing Closet took to the streets of Los Angeles in the closing months of 2016 in partnership with Lava Mae, providing one-stop access to a hot shower and clean clothing, shoes and accessories.

For the next three years, I operated Project Ropa on a volunteer basis, running things in my free time basically on my own. I would collect surplus clothing and shoes from individuals, nonprofit organizations and corporate donors, including manufacturers, and put together a curated selection of high-quality items, which I would take in my personal vehicle to service sites around the city where the homeless congregated. There, the items would be neatly displayed on a clothing rack. The clothes and showers provided in tandem by Project Ropa and Lava Mae gave those in need a complete refresh.

In 2019, thanks to the generosity of a donor, we were able to purchase our first van, which we retrofitted into a dedicated Mobile Walk-in Clothing Closet. The next year we hired our first employee. Through the collective efforts of our dedicated team, including compassionate volunteers, and through the generosity of donors, our mobile closet has become a lifeline for those in need. We have created a safe and welcoming space where individuals can find the clothing that can restore confidence and open doors to better lives.

We now have a growing number of employees and volunteers, three vans and an SUV plus a warehouse to store and sort our large inventory of donations. And besides continuing to make service stops, we partner with a network of community-based organizations in other parts of the county to help them serve homeless and low-income individuals and families there. In all, we help restore dignity and empower the lives of tens of thousands of people each year.

Since our founding, we have witnessed countless transformative moments. We have seen individuals emerge with newfound hope, renewed spirits and a glimmer of possibility. The simple act of providing clean clothing has not only addressed a basic need but has also sparked a sense of belonging and inclusion within our community.

I am immensely proud of the impact we have had over the years. However, our work is far from over. The challenges faced by unhoused individuals – and by low-income people teetering on the brink of becoming unhoused – persist, and the need for our services continues to grow. We remain dedicated to expanding our reach, amplifying its impact, and advocating for systemic change that addresses the root causes of homelessness and discrimination.

I hope you will join us in our mission to deliver dignity one article of clothing at a time.

Caitlin Adler
Founder and Executive Director
Project Ropa