BELFAST, Maine — The dresses were breathtaking: long, short, sparkly, sophisticated and all the colors of the rainbow.
And the women who were working fast Wednesday to get them racked, tagged and ready for the seventh annual Cinderella Project of Maine prom dress giveaway couldn’t help but take a moment to admire the dresses that caught their eyes.
“This one’s mine,” one adult volunteer laughed as she held up a floral gown.
But in actuality, on Saturday, all the dresses are fair game for the teenage girls who will come from all over the state to the project’s headquarters at Reny’s Plaza in Belfast. Once inside the vacant storefront where the dresses are kept, they’ll try them on, show off for their moms and friends and, when they find the dress they love, they can take it home for free. Boyfriends are politely requested to stay at home.
“We never have girls leave unsatisfied,” said Jessica Woods, a guidance counselor at Belfast Area High School and an organizer of the project. “Every girl who leaves, leaves with a really beautiful dress, and they feel really good about themselves. We want these girls to have a really great experience.”
That isn’t always the case when it’s prom season, a coming-of-age ritual that increasingly comes with a higher and higher price tag. According to a 2011 Visa survey, the average family spends $807 for a girl to attend the prom.
“Who can afford that?” Woods asked. “That’s like 200 gallons of fuel.”
Last year, the project gave away 187 dresses to girls who came from all over Waldo County and as far away as Kennebunk. This year, there are at least 600 dresses, many still with price tags attached, to catch the eye of the girls who start lining up before doors open at 9 a.m.
“We have modest, we have very trendy. Retro dresses. Vintage dresses. All sorts, all sizes,” Woods said. “Any girl can find a dress, whether she’s size zero or up.”
This year’s project has a special feature for Waldo County girls, who are invited to participate in a “Cinderella for a Day” giveaway. One lucky winner will receive gift certificates from Belfast businesses including dinner for two at La Vida, an updo at Makin’ Waves Hair Salon, a gel manicure from Lisa Nichols Salon and more.
Although all those dresses don’t cost the teens any money, the girls are asked to “pay it forward,” Woods said.
“Community service is important to us,” she said. “Start your own project somewhere. Find a need in your community. Think outside the box. How did you feel on the Cinderella Project giveaway day? How could you make other people in your community feel like that?”
She said the project is not a handout.
“This is a way for us to help girls feel good,” she said. “We want them to feel great about themselves — and part of that is learning to give back.”
The Cinderella Project of Maine prom dress giveaway will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 7, in Reny’s Plaza in Belfast.
For information, please contact Tabitha Lowe at Waldo Community Action Partners at 338-6809.