Dresses in all shades of the rainbow have been donated to First Baptist Church in Lovejoy, and are just waiting for their “prom princess.”
When Terri Hardin's daughter wanted to go to the senior prom last year, the Butts County teacher had to take a tutoring job just to pay for the dress.
As the wife of a Baptist preacher, it is second nature to Hardin to think of others, and look at the bigger picture in life. As her daughter prepared for prom, Hardin wondered how other families manage to fund the first big social event in a teenage girl's life. Even on her salary, and her husband's, as pastor of First Baptist Church in Lovejoy, prom presented a financial challenge.
"I just thought, 'Wouldn't it be cool to do something for the girls who can't afford a prom dress? So every girl, who wants to go to prom, can.'" said Hardin.
A quick online search revealed other churches across the country had taken on similar endeavors over the years, with much success.
"I realized it wasn't such a bizarre thought at all," she said.
Hardin enlisted Martha Stone, director of the church's Women's Missionary Union, and contacted Lovejoy High School's Parent Teacher Student Association for assistance in identifying girls in need.
"We're an older congregation, we don't even have teenagers at our church, but we want to donate prom dresses to girls whose families can't afford to buy them," said Hardin. "We have hands, we're willing and able, we just don't have a lot of young people."
The women at the church flooded the community with letters and flyers, asking for donated dresses. A few trickled in from individuals. Girls handed over the prom dresses they wore last year. Moms checked the closets of daughters who have gone on to college.
But the racks swelled with responses from Overstock.com, Bridal Expressions in Stockbridge, and Bridals by Lori, in Sandy Springs. Bridals by Lori is featured in the popular TLC series, "Say Yes to the Dress Atlanta," and is widely respected in the bridal and formal wear industry as a premiere couture shop.
"Bridals by Lori sent over more than 100 designer dresses, all brand new!" said Hardin. "And about 18 brand new wraps. We were just thrilled to get that donation."
Another store popular with teenagers, Rue 21, donated 300 hangers to help hold all those dresses. Church members have brought in a handful of dressy handbags, but many more are needed to meet the targeted goal of dressing 200 girls.
"We're also putting out requests for donated shoes, jewelry, make-up and nail polish," said Hardin. "We need more plus-size dresses, size 14 and up. God has been good, but we can't make the dresses magically appear. We are very thankful to the companies for their generosity."
Stone, of the Lovejoy church’s women’s emphasis group, sees it as a ministry.
"This is a great opportunity to tell these girls we do care about them and are interested in meeting their needs," she said. "This all ties into our mission for 2012 in Lovejoy."
The girls will be vetted through the school, with the focus on students eligible for free and reduced lunch, in good academic standing, and who are involved in school activities, said Hardin. The high school has a student body of 2,000, but Hardin has no idea how many are planning to attend the May 5 prom.
The chosen girls will be invited to come to the church during March 30, March 31, and April 1, to try on, and pick, their dress. Stone said information on who made the donation will be attached to the dress with the size. Once the girl chooses her dress, it is hers, but Hardin hopes they will return it after prom to "pay it forward" to a girl next year.
"Of course, we can't make them, but we're going to ask them to return them so someone else can use it next year," she said. "And we've contacted local dry cleaners to either donate cleanings or give us a discount. We're still waiting to hear back on that."
Also on the wish list are donated hair and make-up services. "We'd love to make the girls feel special," said Hardin.
Stone agreed. "We hear so much negative in the world," she said. "But this restores your faith in people. We hear how cold industry and corporations are, but this proves they have a heart just like we do. Because of these donations, we hope to be able to give these girls a memory they will never forget."
The church has had some help in getting out the word about the dress drive, called "Dreams Do Come True," and have created a web site. More information can found at www.dreams.VPweb.com.