By Lauren Foliart
City on a Hill Press Reporter

It’s all about the dress.

With spring around the corner, high-school students across the country are finding dates and buying tickets for one of the most memorable occasions of adolescence: prom.

But some teenagers find themselves unable to attend this rite of passage because of the expense.

In order to address this issue, Santa Cruz City Councilman Tony Madrigal started a prom dress drive this year to collect donated dresses. The dresses will go to girls who would not be able to get a new dress otherwise.

“My general feeling is that across the United States, across California, and across Santa Cruz County, unused or gently used prom dresses are resources waiting to be used by people who don’t have the good fortune to be able to afford a prom dress and aren’t even lucky enough to have family that can give them a hand-me-down dress,” Madrigal said.

Madrigal brought in Classic Cleaners and the Walnut Avenue Women’s Center to help organize the dress drive.

The dresses are being collected and cleaned at the Classic Cleaners locations until the end of April. Then, they will be taken to the Walnut Avenue Women’s Center for girls to try on.

“I know that there are families out there who have lost their jobs and lost their homes,” said Mary Rivera, the center’s office manager. “This will benefit the girls of these families because they’ll be able to go to prom and have a pretty dress.”

The Walnut Avenue Women’s Center is working with guidance counselors, homeless shelters and foster children projects to distribute coupons that would allow girls who need a dress to pick one out and take it home.

“There will be a three-day event that’s very anonymous,” said Pamela Whittington, owner of Classic Cleaners. “We’ll actually have some professional stylists who will help the girls with fittings and choosing the right dress for their skin tone and body type.”

The drive has grabbed the community’s attention, and several other local businesses have asked to join in the effort by collecting other prom accessories such as shoes and jewelry.

“[The drive] has ballooned into more than just the prom dresses,” Madrigal said. “The Elks Lodge called and said they wanted to collect the shoes, jewelry stores want to collect jewelry, and some people have actually gone to the store and bought a new dress just to donate it.”

In addition, dresses are being collected at Yvonne, a women’s boutique in Capitola Village, and at Comerica Bank in Watsonville.

“I think it’s really awesome how the community is coming together,” Rivera said. “There’s already lots of dresses that are being donated from previous proms.”

Approximately 1,500 girls in Santa Cruz County have been identified as needing a prom dress either due to the economic situation or for personal reasons. According to Whittington, two hundred dresses have already been collected in the two weeks the drive has been active.

“Prom is an important event in a person’s life,” Whittington said. “Everybody remembers who they went to the prom with, and with [the economic] situation that we’re going through, we could all do something for everybody. I’m just awestruck at the number of dresses we’ve gotten so far. These are not just dresses — these are memories.”

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