Coronavirus: Prom dress charity may not operate this spring

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — The shy teenager, who had always let mom make decisions for her, picked out her prom dress.

It was her first dress of any kind.

When checking out, she told the clerk that she had never been beautiful before.

The clerk, with tears flowing around the room, told her that she had always been beautiful; the prom dress had just helped her see it.

That was one of the many scenes last year when a nonprofit group called Fairy Goodmothers helped provide about 1,000 high school girls with free prom dresses.

“The look on their faces when they realize they are beautiful is so special in a young girl’s life,” said Lilian Carpenter, 20, a Fairy Goodmother’s volunteer from Columbus who also received prom dresses from the program when she was in high school. “These proms being canceled is awful for these girls. It robs them of a rite of passage in their life.”

The organization has been assisting girls with dresses for 15 years, but this year, thousands of colorful prom dresses hanging in the former Beck Elementary School in Schumacher Place might be headed back to a storage unit instead of a local high school prom.

On March 7, volunteers for Fairy Goodmothers helped about 400 high school students, many of them from disadvantaged families, pick out a free prom dress.

But shortly afterward, Gov. Mike DeWine issued an order to shutter schools at least through April 3 because of the threat of the new coronavirus. And it is possible he could close the schools for the rest of this school year.

Some high schools have canceled proms, and if DeWine does extend the school shutdown, it’s likely that no school will have a prom this spring.

Fairy Goodmothers has had to cancel three “pop-up shop” events but is holding out hope that 600 more students can pick out a prom dress at the final event, on April 4. About 3,000 prom dresses are hanging in the school gymnasium so that the girls have plenty to choose from.

Jenna Homan, president of Fairy Goodmothers, cited the hope but said that, “considering what is happening in the world, we know it’s unlikely.”

Homan realizes that some people are dealing with far worse consequences related to the virus. But the personal experience of the volunteers helping to empower the girls means more than just a dress.

“It gives them the confidence to make even bigger decisions as they transition into the next part of their life,” Homan said. “The volunteers love making the personal connection, and many look forward to doing this each year.”

Homan admitted to tearing up just recalling a girl from a few years ago who wasn’t feeling well on the day she picked a red strapless princess-style prom dress.

The girl’s mom then sent Homan her daughter’s prom photo with a message explaining that the girl had been battling cancer and had missed much of the school year, and the family couldn’t afford a prom dress due to the medical bills.

“This has a huge impact on the girls,” Hohman said. “It has a huge impact on all of us.”


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