Princess Project offers prom dresses for girls low on cash

Courtesy of Apala Egan
As a member of the local National Charity League chapter, Jenny Carmel helped less-fortunate peers secure prom dresses through the nonprofit organization The Princess Project.

As a member of the Stanford Hills Chapter of the National Charity League, which includes Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View, Jenny Carmel volunteered at a number of philanthropies, but the one that gave her the deepest satisfaction was The Princess Project.

The Princess Project is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to “promote self-confidence and individual beauty by providing free prom dresses and accessories to high school girls who cannot otherwise afford them.” Carmel and her friend Lindsey volunteered with the group for two years.

According to Carmel, girls go with their families to select their outfits from The Princess Project warehouse, supplied through donations of dresses and money.

To protect the privacy of the young clients, high school students are barred from volunteering inside the premises. Only adult women assist the teenagers in their pursuit of the perfect dress, accessories and makeup.

Collecting for a cause

Carmel helped with dress donations and collection drives.

“These dresses have to be fancy wear,” she said. “They can be long gowns or short dresses, but they have to be elegant. If there is any damage to the dress, they don’t accept it,”

Carmel faced challenges in her quest to help those less fortunate. In the first year, they collected fewer dresses than anticipated. Part of the problem, she said, was that they did not publicize the dress drive heavily enough. The following year, she and Lindsey blanketed their high school with posters and managed to collect 70 outfits.

Empowering experience

“A prom is a monumental high school experience,” said Ana Moreno VanDiver, The Princess Project board member. “It is very empowering for girls to have a suitable prom dress.”

The Princess Project, launched nine years ago, is exclusive to California.

The Silicon Valley chapter services a number of cities in the area, including Los Altos. Since 2006, it has served 10,000 teens from more than 90 high schools and organizations.

The students who pick out their prom dresses get to keep them. The donated dresses are mostly in the midsize range – large and petite sizes are more difficult to find, according to VanDiver. To ensure that its inventory is complete, The Princess Project hosts fundraisers to underwrite the purchase of additional dresses.

High schools in Los Altos and Mountain View have served as donation venues in years past, though each year the various locations are freshly selected. Typically, the collection drive is scheduled in February.

Now a freshman at San Diego State University, Carmel said her time with the National Charity League helped her focus on “what we can do to help others.”

To donate dresses or money and for more information, visit

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