The prospect of finding a nice, solid red number with rhinestones, for free, at a prom dress giveaway later this month has added another compelling layer to the plans Maddison Pascek has been making since she was a little girl.
“I would say, ‘Oh, Mommy, I want to do that!’ ” said the Hamburg High School junior, as she recalled watching over the fence while the older kids next door posed for their prom pictures.
Pascek, who knows how hard it is for some girls to come up with $300 for a prom dress, will bring along friends to an event in April, where they will comb through racks of free gowns.
They will be among the thousand or more girls expected at two such giveaways in Hamburg and Buffalo. The mid-April events have different organizers, but the same goal and a similar approach: helping girls and their families save money by offering them good, donated dresses that have been collected, cleaned and sometimes tailored.
This will be the ninth year for Buffalo’s “Gowns 4 Proms,” taking place this year from 2:45 p.m. to 8 p.m. on April 15, April 16 and April 19 at Shea’s Performing Arts Center.
Paul Billoni, the owner of Colvin Cleaners, started the event after he saw a story on the news about a former Buffalo public school teacher – Kathy Gielow – who planned to give away dresses from a small City Hall office.
Billoni offered his warehouse and cleaning services and the project grew. “We just got bombarded with gowns,” he said. This year there will be about 4,000 dresses, a mix of donations and what his wife, Cyndee, finds shopping at bridal stores.
“Any day that I’m down there working, there’s some point in the course of that time when I have tears to my eyes,” said Billoni. He recounted seeing the teary look on a father’s face when his daughter approached with a gown she found.
He knows people are out of work and a prom dress is a luxury some can’t afford.
Any hesitation girls might feel about taking a free dress seems to disappear when they walk on the Shea’s stage and are surrounded by beautiful gowns, said Lisa Grisanti, Shea’s marketing director, who is among the 70 volunteers at the Shea’s drive.
“Automatically, I think they just feel elegant,” she said.
Pascek plans to attend a similar but separately organized event in Hamburg. “Shopping Days,” will be held at the Performing Arts Dance Academy, at 206 Lake St., from 3 to 6 p.m. April 13 and from noon to 3 p.m. April 14.
The dress giveaway has been organized for the fourth year in a row by County Legislator Lynne Dixon, I-Hamburg, with help from Urban Valet dry cleaners.
Dixon was inspired after talking with teens at the Eden Boys and Girls Club and realizing girls in her district would welcome a dress drive that was closer to home.
“It’s meant to make it easier for girls in the Southtowns to access some of these dresses,” said Dixon. She remembers her own prom as a simpler but equally significant affair.
“I don’t think any young woman should be denied that pleasure,” she said.
So far Pascek’s advance planning is on track for the mini-wedding-day feeling she’s been aiming for since she saw the girl in the neighbor’s yard in a bright teal dress. “I was just like, ‘I want to look like that.’ ”
She’s settled on a $14 French manicure with some fake tips from a plaza shop. Her sophomore best friend has volunteered to do her hair with curls and a flower on the side. Another best friend will be her date. “We’re both single. So we’re like, ‘Hey, why not go together?’ ” She’s hoping the right dress reveals itself to her in a couple of weeks.
“The chance to look at free dresses? Who would turn that down?” she said.