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Rockridge boutique participates in Princess Project dress drive

on February 18, 2010

Bay Area residents have the chance to be fairy godparents by opening their closets and hearts to help young women attend their high school proms.  The Princess Project, now in its eighth year, is a volunteer effort to give accessories and new and gently used prom dresses to teens who otherwise couldn’t afford them.

According to Quinn Donnelly, board president for the Princess Project, the average cost of a prom night is $900 including buying a dress and shoes, getting one’s hair done, and paying for a meal and other essentials like the ticket itself.  A prom dress can cost $200 or more. “It’s not a feasible option for some families to send their daughters to prom,” said Donnelly.

This year’s dress and accessory drive is in full swing at various shops in the East Bay, San Francisco and Silicon Valley, but will end this Friday at the close of business. The stores are accepting dry-cleaned prom dresses, formal gowns and fancy party dresses from 2005 to the present. To complete the outfit they will accept jewelry, purses, wraps, scarves, tiaras and boas in excellent condition.

One of the donation points is located in North Oakland at Crush, a women’s clothing store. The dresses can be handed in at the counter. Owner Liz Taylor and her daughter Nikki Simonetti also opereate Tootsies, a shoe store, across the street.  The two women have participated in the Princess Project for the past three years.  “We always look for philanthropic efforts to participate in,” said Taylor.

In addition to taking dresses donated by the public, Taylor and Simonetti also give away dresses from her own racks and solicits donations for the Princess Project from corporations, especially for dresses in the harder to find sizes, like 0-2 and plus sizes.  “Our biggest donator was Torrid,” a fashionable plus-size retailer, said Taylor. “They did a good job for us.”

Although the Princess Project does not accept shoe donations, Tootsies is accepting shoes for Soles4Souls, which is collecting them for Haitian earthquake relief. In the past month Taylor has sent 30 cases of shoes, at least 1,000 pairs, to Haiti, and she has 12 more cases of shoes at the back of Tootsies ready to go. “We’ll be collecting shoes through the end of February,” said Taylor.

The Princess Project started in 2002 when Laney Whitcanack and Kristi Smith Knutson, who taught leadership skills at the Coro Foundation in San Francisco, asked a student what she was going to wear for the prom.  The student said she couldn’t afford a prom dress, so she probably wouldn’t go. Whitcanack and Knutson sent an e-mail to friends asking for donations.  Within a few days they had over 100 dresses, and the Princess Project was born.

“We’ve served over 12,000 girls since then.  This year we’re hoping to serve 4,000,” said Donnelly. This year the goal is to give every teen who participates a choice between an average of three garments, which means the foundation must round up about 12,000 dresses.

Scores of volunteers gather the donations, sort them by color and size, and staff giveaway parties that will take place in downtown Oakland on March 6th and 13th. On dress giveaway days, teen girls must arrive with a 2009-2010 high school ID or transcript to get an appointment time.  It is not necessary to prove financial hardship. “One of our core values is we trust the girls that we are serving.  We don’t want to make a girl feel uncomfortable by proving that she’s in financial need.  It’s literally an open door policy,” said Donnelly.

The teens can come to their appointment with a female guest.  Then they will join a group of other teen girls chaperoned by a personal shopper and will have 30 minutes to search for a dress.  Once they’ve found that perfect dress they will be able to choose an accessory to complement the piece.  The Princess Project does not give away shoes or makeup.

This may seem like a lot of effort for a party, but it’s not about the prom, it’s about the teens, says Donnelly.  “When I went to the dress giveaway day, I saw the impact of what it meant to these girls,” said Donnelly. “A new opportunity was given in their lives that they thought was limited to them. They don’t have to worry about their parents making rent or other stresses. We’re not saving the world here, but we’re making a girl feel special.”

You can visit the Princess Project website to find other donation locations in the Bay Area or learn about how you can volunteer.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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