North Apollo church provides prom gowns through Cinderella's Closet

| Saturday, March 2, 2013, 8:09 p.m.

The volunteers at the North Apollo Church of God don't have magic wands, cast spells or walk around singing “Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo.”

Yet, they create magic for area girls each year by providing prom gowns at no cost through the church's Cinderella's Closet outreach program.

Cinderella's Closet was born nine years ago from Kids' Closet, a church mission program providing clothes for infants through adults.

This year's gown giveaway events take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 9 and April 13. Kids' Closet, which operates year-round, will be open in the church's social hall at the same time.

Community and church members transform the church's sanctuary into the Cinderella's Closet dress boutique, with racks of dresses sorted by size. Sunday school classrooms become dressing rooms, and the volunteers become “Fairy Godmothers,” each assigned to a girl for her entire visit at the event, helping to choose a dress, shoes, jewelry and other accessories.

Last year, 140 dresses were distributed.

Kristie Zimmerman, co-coordinator of this year's event, says Cinderella's Closet grows each year by word of mouth. This year, there are more than 500 donated prom gowns available. Some dresses were never worn.

Every girl who is going to a prom is eligible for a free dress, regardless of where they live or their family's finances, she says.

“The prom is such a magical time, and no girl should miss out on it because of the cost involved,” says Zimmerman, of Washington Township.

She had heard about the event a few years ago, and volunteered to help. She has since become a member of North Apollo Church of God, but is quick to point out that volunteers needn't be church members.

As the number of girls attending the events grows, so does the need for volunteers, she says.

Last year, Zimmerman played Fairy Godmother to a family with three teenage daughters.

The teens were skeptical about looking at secondhand dresses, but Zimmerman and the girls' mother convinced them to try some on.

“All three girls found their dream dresses, and they were so excited that they were hugging me by the end of the day,” she says.

The events often are just as thrilling for the volunteers as they are for the girls picking out dresses.

The experience is especially meaningful for the teen volunteers.

Danetta Gift, 18, of Leechburg, has volunteered with both Kids' Closet and Cinderella's Closet for several years, and has donated her dresses.

“It's awesome to see the girls' faces when they are able to find a dress and know that it's OK to take it and not worry about money,” she says.

When she senses hesitancy or embarrassment from girls, she takes them aside and helps to ease their minds. Gift tells them that nobody at the prom will know that she's wearing a secondhand dress, and getting a dress from Cinderella's Closet lessens the financial burden on a girl's family.

“It really is a blessing for them to be able to get a great dress at no cost,” she says.

Allison Boroski, 17, of Freeport, served as a consultant for a Cinderella's Closet event held in the fall, to provide homecoming and semiformal dresses for girls.

“It's great to see the girls having fun trying on dresses, and it's fun for me to try to match a dress to a girl's personality,” she says.

Hannah Guzolik asks, “Who doesn't like looking at sparkly, pretty dresses all day?”

The 18-year-old from Vandergrift worked at last year's event and will be helping girls choose dresses again this year.

She donated her gown to the cause to give it a second life. She saw girls try her dress on, but doesn't know who ended up with it.

“Knowing that someone else got it and that she'd have a good time, too, was such a good feeling,” Guzolik says. “Seeing all the girls come in and find dresses makes all the sorting and hanging up of dresses worthwhile.”

Zimmerman says that Cinderella's Closet sees a lot of return customers, and many of the girls commit to re-donating their dresses after they've worn them.

Donations are accepted year-round in the church during regular office hours. Girls can also bring dresses to donate with them to the event.

Some of the teen volunteers say they will scour the racks after the event is over to see whether they might find their perfect dress.

“A used dress is still a beautiful dress,” Zimmerman says. “And it can make a prom just as magical as it did the first time it was worn.”

Jill Henry Szish is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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