“This is it!” the girl exclaimed, pulling a strapless lilac gown off the rack. “This is the dress.”
Similar cries could be heard throughout the room this past Saturday as high school girls examined and tried on gorgeous — and expensive — prom and ball dresses.
But this wasn’t some upscale dress shop. It was Rooms 809 and 810 at Liverpool High School, and the dresses were part of a giveaway sponsored by the Liverpool chapter of Becca’s Closet. The organization collects gently used formalwear and distributes it to high schoolers who can’t afford to buy it.
Becca’s Closet was founded in memory of 16-year-old Florida resident Rebecca “Becca” Kirtman, who was killed in an automobile accident on August 20, 2003. In the spring of her freshman year at Nova High School, Kirtman had launched a dress bank providing dresses and formal accessories to high school girls wanting to attend their prom/homecoming, but who did not have the resources to purchase them. In the spring of 2003, she collected over 250 dresses. Kirtman’s motto? “Little things can make a difference.”
Becca’s Closet at Liverpool
The organization has chapters across the country. Liverpool’s chapter was started this year by LHS senior Brittany LaRue, who was inspired to launch it after seeing a piece on the program on MTV.
“My mom and I saw it and we thought it would be a good idea to start something in Central New York,” LaRue said. “So I talked to my principal and my superintendent about starting a chapter, and they were definitely on board. They thought it was a such a great idea.”
LHS Principal Greg Avellino said he thought there was definitely a place for the organization at Liverpool.
“It gives kids an opportunity to attend a prom or ball when they might not have been able to attend before,” Avellino said. “When Brittany came to me about it, I was excited that this will give all children a chance to attend an important event without having to worry about how they’re going to finance it.”
The organization has been in place at Liverpool since September. Teachers Pauline Williamson and Julia Bliven are the faculty advisors. Though both LaRue and chapter Vice President Lindsey Groginski will graduate in June, the program will continue under the leadership of another student, and both have promised to continue to support it while at college.
Nearly 90 girls found prom and ball gowns at the giveaway March 29. While some gowns came from the original Becca’s Closet in Florida and others were from Demetrio’s Bridal in New York City, the vast majority came from Central New York.
“People hear about us, and they just want to donate,” LaRue said. “They want to help these girls.”
LaRue and Groginski said they were surprised at the turnout.
“We thought we’d get maybe 50 people,” Groginski said. “But we have close to 100. It’s a little overwhelming.”
And visitors had a chance to get more than just a dress. American Limousine donated a limo ride after hearing about the program on the news; the ride will be free except for a gratuity for the driver.
Avellino said he was thrilled to see how happy the girls were when they left the giveaway.
“I came over and witnessed the happiness, joy and satisfaction on the faces of so many as they left,” he said. “I’m so thankful that all students can have this opportunity.”
Avellino wasn’t the only one who was thankful. The mother of a girl who found her perfect dress at the Liverpool event wrote the following note to LaRue expressing her gratitude to the organization:
“Dear Brittany, Thank you and your family and friends for the beautiful experience of getting a prom dress. Our daughter just lit up when she tried on the dress of her dreams. We just cannot afford it right now, and it made her so happy. The dignity with which you all treated each girl was so evident and precious. Both you and your mom (I spoke with her on the phone last week) were so welcoming. You did not make us feel like we were second rate because we don’t have the funds. You are the best. God bless you and your family!”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.