Durham students get free prom dresses at Gowns for Girls event

OSHAWA — Hundreds of high school girls headed over to Bobby Orr Public School on April 26 for the fourth annual “Gowns for Girls” giveaway event.

The occasion has become quite an affair on the pre-prom season calendar for senior girls looking for a dress to transform their look on prom night.

Const. Joylene MacNeill, a youth officer at Durham regional police central east division, has organized the event since 2014 when she became aware some students were struggling to afford an outfit for the big night, or were even opting out of participating at all.

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OSHAWA – Glengrove P.S. Grade 8 students, Sarah Rone (right) and her friend Fikere Ejigu browse through dresses at the 4th Annual Gowns for Girls event at Bobby Orr P.S. April 26, 2017

MacNeill called on friends and colleagues to root through their closets for any gently used unwanted items. That year 75 students were fitted out for their prom for free through the program.

Since then, the event has snowballed into a major extravaganza. As a DJ pumped out old classics like Journey’s Don’t stop Believing, the school gym transformed into a bazaar with heaving racks of sequined evening gowns in every colour. Moms and daughters trolled the aisles for the perfect gown, arms draped with chiffon and satin options.

Excited damsels snatched sequined pumps that matched their outfits from tabletops packed with colour-coded shoes from pinks and reds to silver wedges and diamante stilettos. Jewelry and accessories, to complete the look, were available.

MacNeil was thrilled with the community’s response to the cause, which enables lower-income families to afford prom night.

OSHAWA — Clarington Central Secondary School students Deirdre Thajer and Shaylah Fitton browsed through jewelry items at the 4th Annual Gowns for Girls event at Bobby Orr Public School April 26. April 26, 2017 – Sabrina Byrnes / Metroland

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OSHAWA – Clarington Secondary School Students Thajer and Shaylah Fitton browse through jewellery items at the 4th annual Gowns for Girls event at Bobby Orr P.S. April 27, 2017.  Photo by Sa by Sabrin Byrnes/Metroland

“We’ve had the most donations ever donated, and it’s all quality stuff,” said MacNeil. “A lot of the dresses haven’t been worn. We had one with a price tag on it for $437, and never been worn.”

The event has been growing every year, said McNeil, who also thanked the help of the sponsors, including hairdressers, makeup artists, seamstresses local restaurants and volunteers providing refreshments. McNeil also thanked Bobby Orr Public School for storing the leftover garments for the next year.

“The community has really, really embraced the program,” said MacNeil. “Each year we just keep growing and growing and the quality of the items just keep getting better and better.” McNeil estimated about 250 girls stopped by the three-hour event.

Bridget Collard, a Grade 9 student from Eastdale Collegiate, stopped at the jewelry counter dressed in a pale pink iridescent gown with a lace-up back and said she was looking for something to tie her outfit together. She will be a guest at a friend’s prom night.

“I love it, it’s so inspirational,” said Collard. “There’s so many different people trying on different things, getting to do what they want to do.  No one really cares in the changing rooms; I’m seeing them half naked. They’ve got their purpose, they know what they’re doing and they’re just doing it.”

Not to be outdone by the girls, the boys also have their chance to pick up a free snappy suit at “Ties for Guys” at Woodcrest Public School, 506 Woodcrest Ave., Oshawa, on May 11, from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. This event is organized by the school, which is accepting donations of suits, dress shirts, pants and shoes and haircut gift cards.

For further details, contact woodcrestps@ddsb.ca.

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