PEORIA — One thousand formal dresses created a sparkling rainbow in Dream Center Peoria's sunlit gymnasium Friday morning during the annual “PROMise of Hope” prom gown giveaway.
At 10 a.m. young women from East Peoria Community High School stepped off a school bus and lined up for their chance to peruse the racks of dresses. Five area high schools signed up and transported students to the event this year.
“I sent out invitations to 25 area high schools, as far away as Roanoke,” said Sherri Ernst, Outreach Ministry & Volunteer Coordinator for Dream Center. “Even those who don’t send a bus spread the word to their students.”
Having an organized field trip helps students get to the event, said Ernst. Not everyone can find transportation. But for those who can, the event was open to everyone from 2 to 6 p.m.
“Last year I had a girl come all the way from Beardstown with her mother,” said Ernst. “They wanted her to go to prom, but they didn’t have the means to do it. They found out about our event on Facebook.”
Nearly 1,000 gowns in all different sizes were on the racks this year, up from 750 last year. All the dresses were donated, and each one was checked for damage and stains before being put on the racks. Ideal Troy donated cleaning services for gowns that needed it.
“We have lots of area businesses who participate,” said Ernst. “A lot of businesses did dress drives, and this year Midwest Tech did a shoe drive. We have almost triple the amount of shoes we had last year.”
East Peoria students Kaitlyn Carlson, 18, and her friend JerriAnne Griffin, 17, had almost as much fun choosing shoes as they did dresses. After a bit of debate, JerriAnne chose a low heeled sparkle-encrusted sandal to accompany her green strapless dress
“I’m gonna make the practical choice and take these 'cause I think I’ll actually be able to move in them,” she said.
Kaitlyn took the other route, choosing a pair of sky-high hot-pink platforms to match the pink sparkles on her white strapless dress.
“I love heels. I’ve been wearing heels since fifth grade, though I won’t be able to run in these,” she said.
A crowd of volunteers gathered around Kaitlyn and marveled as she skillfully walked around in the shoes.
“Those are some fierce shoes,” one volunteer said.
The daylong event was staffed by about 90 volunteers working in two shifts, said Ernst. Every participant got lots of one-on-one attention from volunteers who helped them pick out a dress, shoes, jewelry, and even makeup donated by Mary Kay representatives Chris Davila of Mackinaw and Angela Bacon of Bartonville.
“This is the best event,” said Ernst. “It’s all about dignity. We want the girls to have fun at prom and feel like it’s the best day of their life.”
Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.