Once upon a prom

Catholic Community Services is running a Prom Gear Exchange so that students who can’t afford the prom are given a chance to celebrate the momentous night.

Dress to impress: Catholic Community Services partnered with Zeta Phi Beta Sorority and George Washington High School to collect unneeded prom gear to give to students who can’t afford it. Everything at the April 21 event will be made available for free. The only criteria is being a junior or senior in high school. Source: Ginger Smith

It was sweet serendipity.

Ginger Smith was in the parking lot to run a few errands for the Catholic Community Services’ first-ever prom gear exchange when she ran into a high school-aged couple. After making small talk, she learned the couple wasn’t planning to go to their school’s prom due to high expenses.

Smith had the perfect solution to their problem. It was just a few feet away.

“We went inside, got them something to eat, and then separated them to look for clothing,” Smith said. At the event, each customer is matched with a volunteer shopper for a personalized experience.

They were two of the 20-plus high school students who came out to the event to pick out free prom gear last year. This year, Smith wants to see even more.

CCS partnered with Zeta Phi Beta Sorority and George Washington High School to collect unneeded prom gear to give to students who can’t afford it. They are looking for any piece of formal clothing, and are especially short on men’s apparel.

“Prom is expensive. Factor in getting your hair and makeup done, taking a limo, and it’s expensive,” Smith said. “Prom is exciting, but it’s a burden for some not in a position to pay for all of it.”

Everything at the upcoming April 21 event will be made available for free — the only criteria is being a junior or senior in high school.

After the couple picked out their clothes last year, the girl brought her mom in to ask permission to go.

“The mom was cynical and giving a little attitude, asking what the catch was,” Smith said. “We assured her everything was free, and she started crying. She was overjoyed and grateful her daughter had the opportunity, and that’s when we knew we wanted to do it again.”

CCS is asking anyone who has unwanted gowns, dresses, suits, ties, accessories, jewelry, shoes, belts and any other formal wear to donate them by the second week of April. Anyone who wishes to donate can contact Smith at 215–221–2010. There is also a drop off box at Councilman Bobby Henon’s office at 6730 Torresdale Ave.

Once the items are collected, the event will take place at George Washington on April 21 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Once a young person signs in, they will be given a bite to eat and matched with a volunteer shopper as a DJ plays music.

“We wanted it to feel like a party,” Smith said.

There will also be makeup demonstrations for the girls, and Smith is hoping to partner with local businesses to raffle off gift certificates for haircuts and flowers. Last year Stein Your Florist Co. gave away certificates for free corsages and wristlets.

All clothing is dry cleaned by a cleaner in Bensalem that offers to clean each item for just a dollar, so they will be in fresh condition for the event.

“Last year was special because everyone who came in walked away with something,” Smith said. “Prom is a special time in young people’s lives and it should be celebrated.”

There are other ways to get involved besides donating. CCS is looking for volunteers to serve as greeters and shoppers, as well as someone to give away literature on working papers, scholarships and other helpful resources. Smith said she would sign off on students completing community service hours for their school. ••

For more information or to get involved, contact Ginger Smith at 215–221–2010 or gismith@chs-adphila.org or George Washington Community School Coordinator Caitlyn Boyle at Caitlyn.Boyle@phila.gov.

Logan Krum can be reached at lkrum@newspapermediagroup.com