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Fit for a princess: Prom Closet offers free dresses, accessories
Kelsey Kruzich/Staff Photo - Jane Marshall sorts donated prom dresses for Prom Closet, an organization that provides free prom dresses, shoes and jewelry to girls who cannot afford it.
Jane Marshall has spent hours sifting through the racks of formal gowns stowed in the basement of St. Andrews United Methodist Church, and has a knack for determining which ones are prom material and which ones have seen their better days.
This year, Marshall and the members of United Methodist Women have been inundated with donations for their annual Prom Shopping Days event, and they are looking forward to matching their “shoppers” with the perfect prom ensemble. For free.
“Going to prom is an extra, it’s not included in the monthly budget,” Marshall said. “A girl, in her dreams, would love to have a big, beautiful dress. When they come in and see all of these dresses in such abundance they are happy, but it’s the parents and the grandparents who are so grateful. It’s a memory of a lifetime.”
Since its beginning four years ago, Prom Shopping Days has grown from offering around 300 dresses in its first year to more than 1,000 this year, said Devra Helffrich, fellow prom closet organizer and member of United Methodist Women. The prom closet also offers shoes, handbags and jewelry, all at no cost. Girls of any financial background are welcome during the shopping days, as there are no background checks or forms to fill out.
The whole idea is to make sure a dress (or lack thereof) does not stand in a girl’s way of going to prom, Helffrich said.
“We are ecstatic to have this, but we need the girls to come shop because this is for all for them,” she said. “We are doing it for girls who are finding themselves in situations where they can't afford to go to prom because proms are so expensive nowadays. We want them to know we are going to be here and that they are welcome to come shop.”
Helffrich and Marshall are just two of the women who make Prom Shopping Days Possible. For a few days in April, a large hall in the church is transformed into a boutique where shoppers and their families can browse the racks of formal wear and displays of jewelry and heels, in an effort to make the experience as special as prom day itself. In addition to setting up the area like it is a dress shop, prom closet organizers also pair the girls up with their own personal shopper to assist them in finding the perfect outfit.
Accessory displays, dressing rooms and a modeling area give the girls an opportunity to show off their finds with friends while matching them with the perfect add-ons.
“We work with them so we can make it exciting for them,” Helffrich said. “To see the sparkle in their eyes and their excitement in knowing that it's a reality that they're able to go to prom makes it worth it. There are a lot of hours in putting this together, but every hour is worth it, even if we help one girl.”
All garments and accessories are donated by church members and people within the community and beyond. With people shipping items from places as far away as Houston, news of the prom closet has primarily traveled by word of mouth and has produced overwhelming results, Helffrich said.
But the work does not stop at just receiving the donations. Dedicated prom closet organizers examine each item to make sure it is in excellent condition. Dresses that need mending, beading or cleaning are attended to, and the same goes for any other item the church receives, Helffrich said.
“We have ladies that do beading when necessary to make it appropriate for a girl,” she said. “We will clean the dresses by hand if we need to, or we will take them to the dry cleaners for some of them. We want to make sure it's all done and that they look nice.”
Prom Shopping Days will be held April 10-12 from 4-8 p.m., and Saturday, April 14 from 9 a.m. until noon. Volunteers are needed and donations are still being accepted, including gift certificates at area hair salons for a free up-do. For information, visit www.standrewumc.org or call 972-380-8001.
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