BELFAST, Maine — Hundreds of excited people waited in a long line Saturday morning for the doors to open at a Renys Plaza storefront.
When they did, hundreds of teenage girls and their friends and relatives crowded in to see, touch or try on prom dresses of every style and color — and take one home for free.
The Cinderella Project, which Waldo County CAP hosted for a fifth year in Belfast, gives a free prom dress to any girl who needs one. Teens, along with their friends and moms, waited by fours and fives in a line far down the sidewalk at the Renys Plaza waiting to hunt down the silk, chiffon or taffeta dresses of their dreams.
The doors opened at 10 a.m. By 10:16, the Cinderella Project had given away its first dress. The long, chocolate-colored gown with bright pink straps and embellishments went to Mount View High School senior Tori Harriman of Montville.
“I knew what I was looking for,” Harriman said. “It fit perfect. I knew it was the dress.”
Inside the store were 15 racks of dresses — a total of 500 gowns — of every shape, color and style, ranging from puffy-sleeved vintage dresses to the sleekest modern dress a girl could want. Of those 500 gowns, the project gave away 132 by the end of the day.
The idea behind the Cinderella Project is that prom costs too much and some families can’t afford it, according to organizer Mandie Sawyer of Belfast. The project allows any girl to look beautiful at prom for free, she said.
“Prom can be 400, 500, 600 bucks — dresses aren’t cheap anymore,” Sawyer said. “For a lot of families in this area — Waldo County is one of the lowest-earning communities in Maine — it’s a big deal.”
Some of the girls at the event already had dresses and were sifting through the free racks to see if anything else caught their eye, but Sawyer said this project largely benefits the teens most in need.
“If people have money, they’re not going to come get a free dress, typically,” she said.
But the project doesn’t ask those types of questions. Anyone in high school is invited to find a prom dress.
“I’m excited,” said Bucksport High School freshman Victoria Grindle, clutching her long, two-piece periwinkle gown, a box of shoes and a bag of jewelry. “It made it so much better. I couldn’t get a prom dress if it wasn’t for this.”
Now, Grindle said, all she has to worry about is her hairdo.
Grandmother Carol Gould of Morrill was just happy to see her granddaughter Larissa in a glitzy gown.
“This is a blessing,” Gould said. “Money is just tight right now. You get a beautiful dress and the girls are happy.”
The project also offers free minor repairs to the dresses, free shoes and accessories, including jewelry.
The only thing the Cinderella Project asks for as payment is to “pay it forward.” The expectation is that the girls will get a free dress and, in turn, will give something back to their communities.
That’s the best part, according to Shannon Colcord of Monroe, the mother of a freshman girl.
“It’s helpful financially, but it also teaches them about donating. … [My daughter] has some dresses she wants to donate next year,” Colcord said. “It teaches them to give back.”
Perhaps the only downside to the teen girls’ shopping experience was the wait to get to a dressing room, but some ladies found ways around that.
“You’re going to have to use some ninja moves for this one,” Belfast Free High School freshman Kalyn Robbins told her friend who was yanking a gown over Robbins’ head in the middle of the room.
Robbins said she simply wasn’t up to waiting for the long line to the dressing room to dwindle. She wanted her dress on now.
Sawyer said the project has grown exponentially. Thirteen dresses were given away the first year, while this year hundreds of dresses are expected to find homes through the project.
“It brings tears to my eyes,” Sawyer said.
For information on the Cinderella Project, visit Facebook.com/CinderellaProjectMaine.