Katie Howard and April Zagorski moved from rack to rack searching for a picture-perfect dress for prom.
Too small. Too low-cut. Not the right color. This was going to take awhile.
The dresses, purses, high heels and jewelry were made possible by the Cinderella Project of Pasco, founded nine years ago by head “fairy godmothers” Alison Crumbley and Laurie Weiss.
For the past year, the project has solicited the community for donations of gently used or new prom dresses and accessories. Donation boxes were placed at Pasco high schools, and volunteers picked them up the weekend of the event. These were added to boxes of dresses already in storage.
The event was held last weekend at Trinity Oaks Commerce Park in a set of rooms provided by the facility. A large room held racks of dresses, organized by size, and smaller adjacent rooms served as fitting rooms.
The purpose was to provide free dresses to girls with financial need. In recent years, Weiss said, more girls have shown up because of the struggling economy and families that have lost jobs.
Julie Rockwell, another fairy godmother, teared up as she recalled a phone call she got last week from a father.
“Are they really free?” he asked her. Rockwell said the man lost his job a few months ago and told his daughter she wouldn’t be able to attend prom because he couldn’t afford a dress and accessories.
In addition to dresses, the project provides dozens of female volunteers to help the girls pick out outfits and make minor alterations on the spot.
“We try to make this like a boutique,” Crumbley said. “A lot of these girls have never been waited on hand and foot at a boutique, so we try to do that.”
Some girls brought mothers to dig through the racks with them. Fathers and boyfriends slumped against a wall, repeatedly checking the time on cellphones. They couldn’t understand the importance of picking the perfect dress.
“Just pick one,” Steven O’Day said.
“I’m really picky,” Katie said. “I want to look like a princess!”
Steven sighed. “I’m so glad I’m not a girl.”
She finally settled on a long gown in shades of coral pink and purple. Katie smiled while her friend April took her picture.
“It never ceases to amaze me,” Crumbley said as Katie walked by. “Some of these girls walk out with these gorgeous dresses, and I swear I didn’t see them on the rack. They appear out of thin air.”
Nearly 100 girls picked out prom dresses from the hundreds available. The rest will go back into storage until the next prom season.
“We couldn’t do this without the Pasco County School Board, which lets us place donation boxes in the schools, the people who donate the storage unit and facilities and all our volunteers,” Weiss said.
A second Cinderella Project of Pasco event will be held in April, but the date, time and location are yet to be announced.