Prom dresses

Volunteers have collected hundreds of prom dresses, intent on helping teens and their families keep down the cost of the annual rite of spring.

Every spring, Half Moon Bay High School upperclassmen anticipate the big prom celebration. Students busy themselves renting tuxes, reserving limos, and, on the day of the dance, they smile in front of friends and family for photos and an exchange of corsages and boutonnieres.

It’s a great celebration, but it comes at a cost.

Four years ago when former Coastsider Jenny Urban was preparing for daughter Abby’s first prom, she was shocked at how expensive it would be, notably the dress, which can be pricey and is often only worn once. Along with Lele Keeton, they started the initiative, “Say Yes to a Prom Dress,” to ensure everyone who needs a prom dress will have access to one.

Almost immediately after putting out the call to the community for used prom dresses, donations came pouring in. This year, the grand total of donated dresses available for prom-goers topped 300. Over the last four years more than 200 dresses have found new homes and were reworn to another prom.

“It was like ‘Oh, my god, it’s so expensive, and everyone has these cute dresses that they just wear once,’” said Keeton. “So we thought, why not just reduce, reuse, recycle?

“(Reusing them) was the big thing,” she said. “It wasn’t so much about the people in need, because everyone is in need of a dress to go to prom.”

Most seniors of this upcoming graduating class have not yet had the opportunity to experience a prom due to COVID-19, so this Saturday's event at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk’s Cocoanut Grove, is extra special for some.

Seventy students came to look at dresses at an event on March 5 at Mariners Church, and half took home dresses.

The green initiative has been a Cinderella story for some. Keeton remembers at last year's event, a mom came in place of her daughter who was at work, with a picture of a dress her daughter loved, in hopes of maybe finding something similar. As luck would have it, they had the exact dress she was looking for.

In the first year of the initiative, a mom came all the way from Hayward with her daughter, worried prom that year would be beyond their budget because her son was going through cancer treatment.

“It was pretty cool that without even knowing it (when we started), that this would help someone be able to even go at all,” said Keeton.

The recipients are encouraged to keep the dresses if they fell in love with them, but as another prom weekend passes, the volunteers encourage people to consider purging their closets of dresses if they don’t need them, to keep the event going from year to year.

Collections for donated dresses will resume in January 2023 and continue through March.

“Look for the sign next year,” said Keeton. “Every year we use a sign with this cute little pink dress on it. Those will be all over town and have information about drop-off locations.”

There will be two to three drop-off locations for gently used, stain-free floor length gowns. Volunteers request long dresses, not short, ideally purchased in the last 10 years.

This upcoming year they will not be accepting jewelry or shoe donations. Anything donated that does not meet the criteria will be donated to a thrift store in San Mateo that donates its proceeds to various San Mateo County nonprofits.

The volunteers also say that storing the extra dresses, to hold over for the following year, is one of the biggest challenges, and are seeking a volunteer to help store two garment racks of dresses after next year's event.

Donations are not accepted until January, but inquiries, or those interested in volunteering or providing storage space can contact Keeton at lele.keeton@gmail.com, or her co-chair Melissa McGuirk at melissamcguirk@sbcglobal.net.

Emma Spaeth is a staff writer for the Half Moon Bay Review covering community, arts and sports. Emma grew up in Half Moon Bay before earning a bachelor’s degree in public relations from the University of Oregon.

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