Two Million Bars of Soap to Reach LA's Homeless

Donations from Raw Sugar Living are transported from the Foundation Shelter Resource Bank to the city's nonprofits.

Inside a warehouse in the city of Bell are rows and rows of boxes – donations for some 200 nonprofit groups that support those who can't support themselves.

"Everything we have here is brand new. We get items from manufacturers, movie studios," said Jennifer Marquez, director of product donations at the Shelter Partnership. "Any time someone has a surplus, they look to us."

But recently, the biggest donation of a single item in the history of the S. Mark Taper Foundation Shelter Resource Bank arrived: soap.

"These are much-needed items that, normally, agencies would have to buy themselves," Marquez said. "So, this is a very important donation."

For 30 years, the Shelter Partnership has gathered donations of almost everything, sharing their resources with other nonprofits at no cost to them. Now, 2 million bars of soap are about to spread across Los Angeles, thanks to one Sherman Oaks couple.

Donda Mullis and Ronnie Shugar are the founders of Raw Sugar Living, a company they founded in 2014. Their intention from the beginning, they say, was to give back.

"Our want was to create a brand with a heart that connected consumers with a cause," Mullis said.

"A bar of soap, which we all take for granted, is probably the best thing you can have for someone of less fortunate means," Shugar added.

According to their Raw Sugar Initiative, for every product someone buys from the company, a bar of soap is donated to someone in need.

"If we can help inspire people to look for a better job, to feel better about themselves, to go to school with pride, this is just the first step," Shugar said.

"My mother always told me that we help ourselves by helping others," Mullis added.

Skid Row’s Union Rescue Mission is just one recipient of the bars of soap, a donation the nonprofit says goes a long way to offsetting the costs of providing what their homeless families need.

"These donations mean everything to us," said Alexandra Monsibaez, public relations coordinator at the mission.

She speaks from personal experience – NBCLA profiled her last Christmas.

"I lost everything through addiction," she said.

It was Union Rescue Mission that got her back on her feet, and why she felt compelled to connect with others like her and work at the nonprofit full-time. She's now an advocate for the same people she once huddled beside.

"Just because they're experiencing homelessness doesn't mean they don't want to be clean. They want the same things that we do when we're living in our own place," Monsibaez said. "We want to be able to shower. We want to be able to do regular things, and soap is one of those donations that is vital to what we do."

Raw Sugar went all-in on providing for that need, thinking only about what could go right.

"We're trying our best to give back," Shugar said. "And maybe show people that being inspired and doing good, it rubs off, and you'll have the next person who pays it forward."

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