Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Prom economics 101: Lessons in giving March 30, 2011

The 1984 formal I donated to the FHS NHS Prom Dress Drive .

SEVERAL WEEKS AGO my husband stuffed a 1984 lavender formal into the back seat of our car and delivered it to Faribault High School. (I was sick that day or I would have dropped off the old bridesmaid’s dress myself.)

He was donating my dress, which has hung in an upstairs closet for decades, to the FHS National Honor Society’s first-ever Prom Dress Drive.

Naturally, I couldn’t allow this event to pass without asking whether a local high school student will wear “my” dress to the April 30 FHS prom. I also wanted to know how the drive went.

Although several young women tried on my lavender formal and one in particular with sewing abilities considered changing it up, no one bought it, says NHS co-advisor and FHS English language arts instructor Rachael Hoffman.

However, Hoffman, who is also the FHS theater wardrobe director, says she’s keeping my cast-off for possible use in future FHS theatrical productions.

Of 80 – 85 donated dresses, about 15 were sold with prices ranging from $2 – $50 and averaging around $20. Donations included vintage to current fashionable dresses, a few with price tags still attached. Shoes and jewelry were also contributed.

Hoffman, while grateful for the quantity of dresses donated, was hoping for more shoppers. Yet her enthusiasm for the project and its purpose cannot be quelled.

I’ll let her share a story that nearly moved me to tears. “I was overjoyed to hear a student say that she wouldn’t have to order a dress to fit her size this year since she found one at our drive,” Hoffman writes in an e-mail. “You could see on her face that she felt pretty and I really felt that made the drive worth it.

I also think that some of the NHS students who worked at the drive with me got to put themselves in other students’ shoes for a moment. It was a valuable experience.”

Lessons like that can’t be taught in a classroom.

While the project was a fundraiser for the NHS (the group raised about $400), Hoffman says more importantly that it was a service to the students and the community during difficult economic times. “It was my personal hope that a student who could not afford a dress would come and buy one. We did, in fact, have a few students who showed up with this purpose. It was a wonderful reward.”

Lessons like that can’t be taught in a classroom.

Hoffman clearly understands her students. “As a teacher at FHS, I know that many of these young people work jobs not merely for themselves but to contribute to their families in these hard times, or to save for college,” this astute educator observes. “We really wanted to serve our community in this way. Prom is a special occasion and many families cannot afford ‘extras’ right now. We wanted to make this less of a stressor on normal working families and more of an event to look forward to for the students.”

No one left the Prom Dress Drive without a dress, if they wanted one, Hoffman says. Prices were negotiable and most donors told organizers to give away their dresses (if they could not sell them) to anyone who needed a formal.

Lessons like that in giving from the heart can’t be taught in a classroom.

Details on the front of a lovely formal that also hangs in my closet and which my eldest wore in a friend's wedding. It would make a lovely prom dress, but it wasn't mine to give. Maybe next year?

THE GIVING DIDN’T END in Faribault. Extra Prom Dress Drive formals which won’t be utilized locally were donated to Total Care Cleaners. The south metro business sells the dresses for $10 to any prom-goer who needs one. Total Care also gives away $10 in dry cleaning services for each donated dress.

“They were so appreciative of the donations and excited to give more students this option for a prom dress,” says Julie Petersen, a co-advisor for Faribault’s NHS and a FHS Spanish instructor. “The owner said that many of the girls he helps would not be able to go to prom if not for the dresses he gets donated.”

That economic reality extends nationwide. At donatemydress.org, a national network connecting local dress drive organizations across the country, you’ll find a state-by-state listing of groups sponsoring these dress projects. Scroll to Minnesota and you can link to five metro area formal dress drives—Ever After Gowns, Operation Glass Slipper and The Paperbag Princess—and the two businesses-based projects at Vista Images and Total Care Cleaners.

I expect there are other Minnesota dress drives not listed on this website.

At least one of the prom projects, South St. Paul-based The Paperbag Princess, also accepts suits. Some take accessories too. Ever After Gowns will even accept spa products and new makeup.

I commend groups like the FHS National Honor Society for undertaking a drive like this which offers affordable prom attire to young women. NHS members seem to have benefited from the project, in lessons learned, as much as the young women who found prom formals.

Now, if only the cost of attending the FHS prom—$175 per couple for the event to be held at a South Saint Paul night club—would be more affordable…

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

2 Responses to “Prom economics 101: Lessons in giving”

  1. Bernie Says:

    Oh, how clever of her to keep your dress for a future play. That would work nicely. It was nice of you to donate your dress. I was touched by the gal who found a dress to fit her.
    If I won the lottery, I would so donate dresses to the plus size girls who go to prom. They are usually the hardest to fit. Believe me, I know.

    Btw:I had to brag about you on my Facebook page and your mention in the magazine.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Oh, Bernie, I know you would donate in a heartbeat. You have such a kind heart.

      Thanks for the Facebook mention. I’m not on FB (probably should be). I appreciate your ongoing enthusiastic support of Minnesota Prairie Roots.

      Readers, check out Bernie’s One Mixed Bag blog. Bernie, a Duluth native now living in Montana, has a gift for writing with humor. I promise, her posts will make you smile and often laugh out loud.


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