Home News Prom dresses giveaway in Santa Clara delights students and volunteers

Prom dresses giveaway in Santa Clara delights students and volunteers


Prom dresses giveaway in Santa Clara delights students and volunteers

Junior prom at Menlo-Atherton High School in Atherton is coming up next month, and Tais Roman wants to go big — literally.

“I just want a poofy dress,” the 17-year-old said recently, holding an armful of ruffled prospects inside a downtown Santa Clara complex-turned-prom dress shop. “But maybe I can also try to get something under it, so it can be bigger.”

Roman was one of dozens of Bay Area teens who showed up on March 13 to the Princess Project Silicon Valley’s annual giveaway, an event where students could pick dresses, shoes and accessories to wear on their special night for free. The inside of the nonprofit’s Monroe Street location was decorated to look like a mini department store, complete with several rows of rainbow dresses, full-length mirrors and a fitting room.

With additional chapters in San Francisco, San Diego and Sonoma, the Princess Project accepts new and lightly-used items from community members year-round. Private and public giveaways then take place over the course of several days in March, just in time for the spring prom season. Students do not have to demonstrate financial need to participate.

Like Roman, Menlo-Atherton senior Jalia Johnson came to the event knowing what she wanted; a dress in either red or black, and ankle length. This was the 18-year-old’s second time shopping at the Princess Project, and she heard about the event through Live in Peace, an East Palo Alto-based youth empowerment program.

“I feel like it’s a great opportunity; not everyone has something like this,” Johnson said, browsing through a rack of dark-colored dresses. “To just have a place where you can come to and be able to pick out your own dress.”

The selection seems endless, but even if students aren’t able to find something they like, they can always improvise.

Pispisa Crabtree, from Newark Memorial High School in Newark, for instance, wanted to get a green or blue dress for her senior prom, but didn’t mind dyeing a plain white dress those colors if she found one that fit well.

“I was planning to look into it more,” the 17-year-old senior said, gently touching the fabric of a white dress while waiting in line for a fitting room. “Synthetic doesn’t dye well, so I’ll need to look at the tag.”

She ended up deciding to search for another gown.

To assist attendees in their quest to find a dress, the organization recruits pink apron-wearing volunteers known as “fairy godmothers.” Palo Alto resident Mary Rose joined for the first time on March 13 after hearing about the event through a friend. An hour into her shift, she helped find a red dress for a girl who was blind.

“She was like, ‘I’m Cinderella!’ and started singing Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo,” Rose said, smiling. “She couldn’t see the dress, but she was just thrilled to get it. It was touching.”

Princess Project Silicon Valley President Rebecca Flores doesn’t take these precious dress shopping moments for granted, not after the COVID-19 pandemic, when the chapter’s annual giveaways were forced to pause due to shelter-in-place and social distancing measures.

Her chapter in particular took a hard financial hit, Flores said, and poured most of its resources and finances into putting hundreds of dresses in storage. The organization reintroduced giveaways in 2022, once restrictions had lifted, and handed out a modest 209 dresses. By 2023, however, the number had grown to 964. Since January, the project has given away more than 600 gowns, and volunteers are still counting.

“Back then we were kind of filtering smaller groups as much as we could and trying to stay within the limits and the requirements that were in place at the time,” Flores said. “Now, we’re in full force.”

Fellow Newark senior Anglinah Alaura appreciates the chapter’s determination to resume giveaways. Prom can be an expensive affair, she said, and pandemic-related economic issues have only made it worse.

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