03/25/09 — Project offers free prom dresses

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Project offers free prom dresses

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on March 25, 2009 1:46 PM

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Dana Southerland, owner of the Bridal Gallery, looks through some of the more than 400 dresses available to junior and senior girls who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford one.

It's almost that time of year again -- prom season -- when high school girls are looking for just the right dress and accessories for the big night.

But what would you do if you couldn't afford a dress?

Wayne County girls don't have to worry about that this year.

For the second year in a row, the Bridal Gallery is teaming up with Garris Chapel United Methodist Church to provide free prom dresses to those girls in need.

And with the economy putting most everyone's wallets in a crunch, Bridal Gallery owner and Garris Chapel Church member Dana Southerland believes there will be more need this year than last. But she said the church and the store are ready.

"I have contacts all over the place that I ask to donate dresses," she said.

And the shops have been sending them.

"We have about 400 dresses," she said. "And about 99 percent of the dresses are new. ... We have a few slightly used ones."

Last year, the shop didn't have to pull out any dresses from the slightly used category and even had new ones left over, she said.

And the girls who come in don't just leave with a dress.

"We also give them a care package with Mary Kay cosmetics and shoes, purses and shawls -- whatever is brought in and donated," she said.

The project started last year, when Mrs. Southerland spoke with the church's pastor and told him what she wanted to do.

"The church jumped in, and this has become a ministry for them," she said.

And she gives all the credit to them.

Garris Chapel is the one that, she says, sends the girls who are in need to her.

"We just house the dresses," she said.

To Mrs. Southerland, this project is more than just an act of charity.

"Honestly, I get the biggest blessing," she said.

The girls who typically come in for the dresses are ones who wouldn't normally go to a prom, she said.

But having a beautiful dress makes all the difference.

"These are girls that are disabled, whose family has been through a house fire or who are foster children," she said. "There are a lot of different reasons. ... I let the church decide who is in the greatest need."

She remembers last year when a girl came in, the shop found her the perfect dress and as she stood looking in the mirror, the girl got a little "teary-eyed," Mrs. Southerland said.

"And of course, that made all of us cry," she said. "She was just so appreciative, so thankful."

Mrs. Southerland received an anonymous thank-you note after last year's prom season.

"I'm paraphrasing, but it said something like, 'My grandma always told me that God will take care of your needs. I never believed it until this.' ... Young children have to deal with a lot of negativity. (When they come to find a dress, the girls) realize that they are cared about, that someone cares for them."

Mrs. Southerland wants to make sure that girls who are in need know that the shop has a separate side for the dresses, and everything is private.

"They set up appointments. I don't even know their last names," she said. "No one has to know where they got the dress from."

After the big night is over, the girls are asked one thing -- to donate the dresses back to the shop so that other girls may benefit.

If you would like to nominate someone for a free prom dress this year, contact Garris Chapel UMC at 252-566-4355.

For those brides who may be looking to save some money on their wedding dress, the Bridal Gallery will also be having a sale Sunday, April 5, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., where dresses cost between $99 and $299.

"Most people charge an entry fee, but we are asking people to bring in kid-friendly nonperishable food items to help with a ministry of Garris Chapel UMC instead," she said.