When Melissa LeBar’s daughter needed a ballgown to compete in a National American Miss pageant last year, the Lawrence mother knew that buying a dress for the competition would be expensive.
“I agreed to let her do it, and we don’t have a huge budget,” said LeBar, who works as pharmacist-in-charge at Homeland Homecare Services.
Instead, she took Ellie, now a fifth-grader at the Century School, to the Social Service League’s Project Prom Dress giveaway. The annual event provides gently used, contemporary-styled dresses for proms, spring formals, quinceañeras and other special events, free of charge.
After trying on about 10 dresses, Ellie finally settled on a strapless, floor-length burgundy gown. When it came time for Ellie to sing onstage during the pageant’s talent portion, LeBar said the dress provided her daughter with an extra dose of confidence.
“She felt good in that dress,” LeBar said. “She loved that dress.”
Janet Cinelli, Social Service League treasurer, hopes to pass that feeling along to at least one girl from every Douglas County high school at this year’s Project Prom Dress on Saturday.
The giveaway will be held at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St., from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Guests can choose from more than 200 dresses, as well as the Social Service League’s collection of shoes, bags and jewelry.
Cinelli said the most rewarding aspect of Project Prom Dress is helping teens find a perfect dress who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford it. She remembers one young woman and her father who attended the giveaway two years ago.
“You could see the intention and nervousness in their eyes,” she said. “Those eyes read, ‘We gotta get a dress, or there isn’t going to be any prom.’ When they left with a great dress in hand, the young lady was simply beaming, a huge smile from ear to ear.”
While the aim is to make prom accessible for low-income teens, Cinelli said, the event is open to everyone.
The Social Service League is still accepting donations for Saturday’s giveaway. To donate, drop off gently used dresses and accessories at the store’s temporary location at 11th and New Hampshire streets.