The school year is winding down. That graduation gown is just in sight, while the prom dress is hanging in the closet, exhausted from a long night of dancing. It is tucked in next to the Junior Year Prom dress and maybe even a Homecoming Dress or two.
As your senior packs for college, the dresses will stay safely in your home, cause “Gosh Mom, I don’t have room for them at school!” Maybe they can be worn again for a college event, maybe not. What do you do with it now?
Seven years ago in the Kansas City area, a woman who works with teenagers placed in foster care needed Prom dresses. She worked with girls who wanted to attend their Prom like every other girl. Some foster parents don’t have money to spend on a prom dress. She asked friends, relatives and neighbors for their gently used prom dresses and started a closet in her office at work.
She belonged to a large church that often collected goods or materials for those in need. Her need for prom dresses became the church’s Prom Boutique. At first it was only open to girls who lived in foster care. Today it is open to any girl, no matter where they live. They can have any dress or accessory for free. The only questions they are asked are what school they attend and how did you hear about us. No one has to provide any further information.
Dresses are collected year round and placed in a warehouse on church property. The dresses are checked for spots or rips and repaired and cleaned as necessary. They are grouped by size. Besides dresses, the Boutique collects evening bags, jewelry, foundation garments, shoes and purses.
Volunteer shoppers go around to thrift stores and purchase size 14 and up dresses to ensure girls of all size will have many dresses to choose from. The church has a small budget for these purchases. I love shopping so I was on this committee.
Flyers are sent to local high schools advertising the Prom Boutique for Free Prom Dresses. Local media announces it on the radio, TV and in newspapers.
The day of the sale, men of the church use trucks with lifts to transport the dresses to a large gym in the church. There are large round racks holding the dresses that are sorted by size and clearly marked. Tables are set up with foundation garments, purses, jewelry and makeup samples. Mary Kay makeup consultants offer ideas for makeup shades. One wall holds shoe displays covered with shoes.
There is a TV with chairs in a semi circle for the fathers or siblings who come along and have to wait while a girl chooses a dress.
Large tents were set up on one end of the gym for dressing rooms. Large mirrors were at each end of the room. Girls were invited to choose any dress they liked. Try on up to three at a time. Volunteers were available to zip you up, give you an opinion or hustle unwanted dresses back to the racks. When a dress was chosen, volunteer seamstresses provided hemming or other alterations. After the dress is altered, the dress is steamed and placed in a garment bag and given to the new owner.
There were dresses of all kinds and sizes, just as there are girls of all kinds and sizes. The girl with dyed purple, red and black hair wearing high top sneakers, found a “far out” purple punk rocker Prom dress. The graceful willowy girl with long blond hair found a gorgeous black and gold sequined dress to wear to her dance.
A number of teens living in a half way house came to get a dress. Some schools bused their girls in on school buses. One male bus driver told a volunteer: “I’ve been around these girls for years. Today is the first day I’ve seen some of them smile”. One woman came in a wheelchair, with permission from her hospice care workers to watch her daughter get a dress.
This year over 1000 dresses were given away during a 3 day Prom Boutique event. The donors enjoyed knowing their dresses got another night to party. And a tax donation letter if they wished. The recipients got the joy of being able to attend their Prom dressed beautifully like all the other girls.
Many of the parents and teachers who accompanied the girls thanked the volunteers over and over again. It was amazing how many volunteers came who didn’t belong to this church. They just wanted to be part of something so fun and positive.
We all agreed – the volunteers had just as much fun as the girls.
ANYONE can donate! Send your gently used cocktail/prom/bridesmaid dresses and accessories to:
Woods Chapel United Methodist Church
4725 NE Lakewood Way
Lees Summit, MO 64064
The Prom Boutique was started by Sonia Clogston twelve years ago to help children in foster care attend their school’s prom. Sadly Sonia passed away suddenly last week leaving two young sons. We will continue her work with the Prom Boutique. Her life will live on, not only through the Boutique, but in the lives of all the children she advocated for.