Preonika Gray shuffles through a rack of dresses in a room full of colorful gowns.
The mood in the room is chaotic but energetic. Other young girls are trying on dresses as workers help them find the right fit and a good color.
“My dream prom would be me walking down the red carpet, and everyone’s eyes are only on me,” said Preonika, 16.
Last month, she and 61 other local high school girls came to the Armory in Columbia to receive a free prom dress from the Cinderella Project, plus coupons, cosmetics and chances to win gift certificates.
The Cinderella Project was started a year ago by MU students in the Association of Textile and Apparel Management. This year, they teamed up with Alpha Delta Pi sorority, whose members collect dresses through a program called Becca’s Closet.
The two organizations together brought in more than 400 prom gowns.
Maggie Shannon, community service director for the organization, said the Association of Textile and Apparel Management had about 40 dresses left over from last year, and 90 more were collected this year.
Tiger Cleaners also got involved by collecting dresses and providing free dry cleaning for all the donated dresses.
“Tiger Cleaners has been integral to the success of this project,” Shannon said.
She said the clothing aspect of the drive appeals to textile and apparel management majors at MU.
“Many members of our organization feel passionately about the project because it is such a logical idea and it has the potential to help hardworking girls attend their proms,” she said.
Prom dresses are expensive and are usually worn only once.
“Most women store their prom dresses in the back of their closets until they are no longer in style,” Shannon said.
Although it might be difficult to give up a garment if the owner is emotionally attached, she said, donations let girls find a dream dress without emptying their wallets.
“Prom can be extremely expensive for high school students and is often ruled out immediately by students in low-income families,” Shannon said.
Girls who give up expensive dresses give other girls an opportunity for prom memories.
Lori Concannon, a part-time church secretary and mother of five who has lived in Columbia for 26 years, heard about the Cinderella Project in a newsletter.
“I knew I had some dresses that my daughter wore to high school dances three or four years ago that were just sitting in her closet and would never be worn again,” Concannon said. “I thought this was an ideal way to put them to good use.”
Meredith Adams, a junior at MU, also donated dresses to the drive.
“They shouldn’t go to waste when someone else could use them,” Adams said.
“Out of all the community service projects I am responsible for, this one is my favorite because it is so rewarding to see the difference this event makes in the girls’ lives,” Shannon said.