Donated dresses make dreams come true
By Cari Hachmann
Prom in the modern era is no simple affair. For many young men and women, the graduation party is a pinnacle event of their high school teen lives and a chance to live a night of luxury with celebrity-worthy dresses and tuxes, fancy dinners, party limos, paparazzi, live bands, hotel rooms, and the list goes on.
For young ladies, expectations for prom are set high, and the price tag to look pretty is even steeper.
First, a girl needs the perfect gown and shoes to match. Don’t forget manicures, pedicures, hairdos, jewelry, and flowers. Then if you’re getting more serious, add fake tans, brow waxing, teeth whitening, and a professional photographer to capture all of these wonderfully expensive moments.
What ends up being a one-night, spring affair of dressing up and going out turns out to be a thousand-dollar expenditure, which for some parents looks like drained wallets and dipping into savings.
For the seventh consecutive year, Portland non-profit Abby’s Closet offers a financial hand to hundreds of dreaming-of-prom teens and parents by giving away free, donated prom dresses.
Thousands of high school women from all over Oregon and Washington this month flocked to the Doubletree Hotel’s Lloyd Center Exhibition Hall, where supported by hundreds of volunteers, Abby’s Closet held their two-day 7th Annual Prom Gown Giveaway.
“Each year the numbers of young women who attend our two-day event increases,” said Sally Egland, founder and president of Abby’s Closet. “This year, Abby’s Closet made our greatest impact yet by providing free gowns to 2,200 high school woman.”
With 7,273 beautiful donated dresses to choose from, all varying in size, shape, and color, each entering high school student took a number and waited their chance to search through racks of glimmering options.
Once called, girls hunted for the ideal prom dress and with the help of friends, mothers, siblings, and all the volunteers wearing bright pink shirts, including on-site seamstresses, each walked away with a free, dream gown.
“The event provides an encouraging community for high school woman to feel confident as they select their dream dress,” said Egland.
This year, for the first time, Abby’s Closet conducted the “Dreams Can Come True” contest to honor a young woman who embodies the spirit and mission of the organization, which is “to inspire confidence and respect in high school women by providing free formal gowns for prom and other memorable events”.
Maria Martell, a senior at Glencoe High School in Hillsboro was announced the winner after careful reviewing of the applications.
“The selection committee was so impressed with Maria,” said Egland. “She is a well-deserving young woman who has worked hard academically and personally to set and achieve her dreams”.
As the winner, Martell was allowed to choose the first gown of the year from the Abby’s Closet event. She also received gift certificates and other prizes to help her look and feel confident on her prom night and a monetary award to be used for higher education.
Abby’s Closet, run entirely by volunteers, has been helping prom dreams come true since 2004 when the non-profit organization was co-founded by Egland, her daughter Abby Egland, and a small group of friends.
The idea originated when before Abby left for college, as mother and daughter cleaned out her bedroom closet and found a number of formal dresses she had worn to various West Linn High School events.
Wonderful memories attached to one beautiful, sequenced pink gown inspired Abby and her mother to start their own one-of-a-kind organization in Portland, where they could collect and distribute formal prom gowns, free of charge, to high school women who might otherwise be unable to attend prom due to the expensive costs.
Within six years of its inception, Abby’s Closet has provided free gowns to over 7,000 high school women, with 2,100 given away in 2010. Collecting donations year around, Abby’s Closet receives dresses from over 40 local businesses with dress drop-off sites, along with volunteer-organized dress drives at schools and from individuals.
With no paid staff, Abby’s Closet runs with a board of directors who set the vision and direction of the organization and provide leadership for over 500 volunteers that help throughout the year. A 13-member student advisory board, made up of local high school women, works alongside the Abby’s Closet Board.
“The success each year would not be possible without the support from businesses, volunteers and the leadership of our board of directors and student advisory board,” Sally Egland said. “We are excited as we begin planning for next year’s event.”
Many young women who have been helped by Abby’s Closet are giving back to their communities by joining the student advisory board, organizing dress donation drives at their schools, or using Abby’s Closet as a volunteering opportunity for school credit.
If you would like more information or an opportunity to volunteer, donate, or make financial contributions to Abby’s Closest, visit the group’s website abbyscloset.org or call 503-722-1524.