The young woman still stands out in Pat Evans’ mind. She came to Apex United Methodist Church’s Prom Shoppe wanting the perfect dress.
She didn’t act like she was eager to try on dresses, though. She was looking at the floor, and her shoulders were slumped, Evans recalls.
“You could tell she was having a difficult day,” she said.
But as the girl tried on more and more dresses, modeling them for volunteers and other dress-seekers, her spirits visibly were lifted. Volunteers gave her a purse and other accessories to go with the dress, which helped even more.
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“When she came out to model the dress she decided on, in the lobby, she literally was turning ciricles around and around so her dress was standing out,” Evans said. “She was just so happy and so proud.”
That’s the kind of experience Evans and other volunteers hope to see this weekend for the seventh annual Prom Shoppe. For a day and a half, a room at the church will be filled with racks of dresses of all shapes, styles and colors.
There will be sophisticated black gowns, bright yellow gowns that make a statement, sassy sequined frocks and everything in between.
And they’re all free.
The shop is open to girls from all over the area without any proof of need or registration. A teen can come get a dress, shoes, accessory and makeup, too.
There’s also no judgment. The volunteers behind the shop know that sometimes circumstances get in the way of life, and can make a rite of passage for a teen a little more difficult.
“There are circumstances where they never thought they’d be here,” said Stacy Kivett, the shop’s mission leader for the past two years.
The volunteers work to give the shop an upbeat atmosphere with music and decorations. Dressing rooms are set up, and the volunteers take pride in helping a girl make her way through the racks of dresses, all of which have been donated.
As of last week, Kivett expected there would be at least 800 to 900 dresses, with more coming in daily. They’ve been inspected by volunteers to make sure they’re in good hape, and examined carefully by a committee of teen girls who ensure they’re in style for today’s prom-goers.
“Some are brand new with tags on them,” Kivett said.
She said she has been impressed with the volume of dresses donated at the church and at locations in the area.
“The way the word has gotten out is amazing,” said Kivett, who has been involved with the shop for four years. “The generosity of the public astounds me.”
The huge number of dresses is quite a leap from the first year of the program, when Kivett said about 20 girls were served. The shop has continued to grow in donations and participants. Last year, Kivett said, about 150 to 200 girls were served.
This year, organizers decided to add a half day more of shopping to allow more people to come. The shop will be open Friday, Feb. 20 from 3 to 8 p.m. and Saturday, Feb. 21, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
There’s an energy throughout the room during the shop, Kivett said.
“It’s nothing short of amazing, to be quite honest,” she said. “It’s great to see smiles on their faces, and their parents. A lot didn’t think they’d be able to do this for their children.”
And the organizers get just as much out of it as the girls and their parents do, said Evans, who lives in Cary. She’s been with the shop for five years, and as a pediatric nurse, formerly with Wake County schools, she’s seen the need in the community. There are families who struggle, even in an area known for its affluence, she said.
Evans said she knows it’s hard for some girls, and parents, to say they need help for something like attending a school dance.
“They don’t have an easy life,” she said. “If we can make this one event a little easier, that’s wonderful. They’re just as important as the girl who does ride in a limo or who has a $1,000 dress.”
Evans said going to prom is a significant moment, ranking up there with a wedding on the scale of life events.
“You think initially you’re giving away dresses, it’s not that much,” said Evans, remembering her early involvement with the mission. “The girls were so appreciative. What we thought was a very minor thing was really major in their lives.”
The goal is to make the girls feel beautiful and give them a positive experience they won’t forget, Kivett and Evans said.
Once the girls have picked out their dresses and get ready to leave the shop, the volunteers at the check-in table cheer and clap, Evans said.
“You can see how they react,” she said.