Hundreds of high school girls from around Montgomery County will be well-dressed for their upcoming proms thanks to donations provided by a student club at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.
On Wednesday, those teens excitedly sifted through more than 1,000 donated dresses, plus shoes and accessories, during B-CC’s annual Once Upon A Prom event held in a room at the school.
Once Upon A Prom is a student-led organization that collects donations of used prom dresses, shoes, and accessories. Every spring before prom, the organization holds a daylong event to offers the items for free to local students, with the goal of providing prom outfits to girls who may not be able to afford to buy their own. During Wednesday’s event, the club gave away 934 dresses.
Juniors Madison Silver and Becca Leggett serve as the organization’s co-presidents, and freshman Lola Epstein is a co-vice president along with sophomore Tory Silver. For these girls, Once Upon A Prom is a family affair. Carly Silver, Madison and Tory’s older sister, started the club in 2010. She passed it down to another sister Peyton and now Madison and Tory help run the club. Wendy Silver, the girls’ mother also helps out, as does Barbara Tannenbaum, Epstein’s mom.
“It’s helped me with understanding the community and its diversity,” Epstein said of her involvement with the club. “It really shows you every girl should go to prom the way they want to look no matter their social standing.”
This year’s event was set up like a department store. Dressing rooms lined one wall and dresses were organized by size on racks positioned throughout the space. The volunteers worked hard to ensure there were choices available in every size. As girls searched for a dress, club volunteers wandered the racks offering their support. Club members said they made sure they offered enough dresses in every size.
“So many girls come through here with different body types. We don’t want to exclude anyone,” Leggett said.
The mood in the room was joyful as girls flipped through dresses on the racks, eager to find their dream outfit. As they tried on dresses, the girls admired themselves in a mirror, and volunteers provided personal attention.
“All these girls are so excited to try on the dresses,” Tory Silver said. “They’ll twirl, they actually feel like a princess.”
As she examined dresses, 18-year-old Gertrude Akunlibe said she was overwhelmed by the generosity of those who had donated the frocks. The Gaithersburg High School junior is an exchange student from the upper east region of Ghana and has never had a prom dress before.
“It’s incredible,” Akunlibe said. “I didn’t know there was a place you could go and take things for free. … I really appreciate it.”
Akunlibe said she wants to take advantage of every opportunity before she goes home and Once Upon A Prom is helping her get the true prom experience. “It’s the only opportunity I think I will get to go to prom, so I’m definitely going to try it,” she said.
Gertrude Akunlibe, 18, admires her reflection in the mirror at the Once Upon A Prom dress giveaway. Credit: Natalie Griffin
Student volunteers at B-CC High School collected more than 1,000 donated dresses for the event Wednesday. Credit: Natalie Griffin
The club volunteers put in countless hours to make sure the event runs as smoothly and professionally as possible. They collect dresses year-round and constantly promote the event through social media and by distributing fliers. They also ask for donations from local businesses and hold fundraisers at local restaurants to pay the administrative costs associated with the event.
“Every day it’s a little bit of school work and a little bit of Once Upon A Prom,” Leggett said.
The event grows in popularity each year, attracting more donations and customers from around the county, club members said. Last year the volunteers collected about 800 dresses, eight times as many gathered for the first event in 2010.
Once Upon A Prom volunteers were excited about the number of dresses they received this year, but said it is getting difficult to store more than 1,000 dresses in one location.
“The amount of dresses we have is both a blessing and a curse,” Leggett said. “Where are you storing these dresses, and how are you going to move them?”
The dresses need to be kept in a climate-controlled storage area until the event, she explained, and kept off the floor, so they remain in good condition. This year, club members reached out to Metropolitan Moving and Storage, which moved the dresses for free from a storage facility.
Even with the issue of storage, organizers say the club is still looking to expand the number of dresses collected and increase the number of girls who attend the annual event.
“It’s a lot of work,” Madison Silver said. “But then the day of, it’s fun to help these girls pick out their dress and awesome to see the smiles on their faces.”