Attending the prom is a rite of passage for most teenage girls.
The special day includes getting dressed up, riding in a limousine, dancing the night away, taking pictures and making memories that will last a lifetime.
But for some girls, the costs associated with the prom can be too much of a financial burden for their families.
"Between the storm and the economy, I just don't think people have it right now," said Mays Landing resident Vickie Britton, organizer of Operation: Glass Slipper, a prom-dress donation program offering free, gently worn gowns and accessories to girls in need.
The program is being run on Saturdays and Sundays through May 4, or while supplies last, out of a commercial property owned by Britton's family at Routes 40 and 50 in Mays Landing. Britton and her brother, Michael Pierce, also of Mays Landing, are in the process of transforming the commercial space into a high-end antique and thrift shop, The Haggle Hut. They are waiting on permits and plan to open The Haggle Hut no later than June 1. In the meantime, Britton is using the space to house the Operation: Glass Slipper program.
She has collected more than 50 gowns and accessories, such as shoes and jewelry, from her family and friends, has had all the dresses dry-cleaned and has set them up on clothing racks inside the shop. Girls are invited to come in, browse and try on as many dresses as they wish, which range in sizes from zero to 24. Once they find the perfect dress, it's theirs, free.
Britton came up with the idea after a friend confessed to her that her biggest life regret was not attending her prom because she couldn't afford it.
"She said, 'My mom could have bought me a gown, but it wouldn't have competed with what the other girls were wearing, and it would have made me feel inferior,'" Britton said of her friend. "In the meantime, I'm thinking to myself, 'How many girls do you know that buy a $600 dress, wear it for three hours and then it lays in a closet somewhere?'"
Since the program's start, Britton has given away quite a few dresses, and she's also shed a few tears of joy.
"Two sisters recently came in with their mom," Britton said. "They live in Galloway, but they were on their way home from church in Buena and were passing through this way.
"As they're driving home, the mother was telling them, 'I can't afford to send you both to the prom.' The one sister's a senior; the other's a sophomore. So they're devastated and then they get caught at the stop light here, and they see the sign that says 'free prom dresses.' They come in, they see how pretty the dresses are and now they're crying, I'm crying.
"They're both going to the prom. If we didn't give any more dresses away after that, my soul was already fed."
Contact Elisa Lala:
If you go
What: Operation: Glass Slipper, a prom dress donation program
When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday to Sunday through May 4, or while supplies last
Where: The Haggle Hut, 6047 Harding Highway.