Organizers expect this year's Cinderella Project prom dress giveaway to be biggest ever

Jeff Bobo • Feb 1, 2017 at 8:29 AM

KINGSPORT — In its five years of existence, the Hawkins County-based Cinderella Project has grown from a small, local, grass roots effort to what’s approaching an annual half-million dollar charitable enterprise.

In 2012, the Cinderella Project gave away 45 prom dresses to high school girls who otherwise would not have had the money to outfit themselves properly for their big night.

Last year, the project gave away more than 480 dresses as well as a handful of tuxes for boys.

Recipients also got shoes and accessories, as well as vouchers and coupons donated by hairdressers, limousine services, restaurants, and other prom-related service providers.

Cinderella Project coordinator Ann DeWitte told the Times-News Tuesday that the average Cinderella Project recipients probably get more than $1,000 worth of goods and services. In many cases, the dresses are brand new and retail from several hundred dollars to more than $1,000 each.

When you figure the project gave away more then 480 dresses last year, that’s at least $480,000 in goods and services distributed in 2016 alone.

“To be honest, I never really thought about it like that,” DeWitte said. “On dress giveaway days, we’re so busy we never have gotten around to adding it all up. To me this has always been about the kids — making sure they have everything they need for prom night from head to toe.

“When you add it up, that is a lot of money, but we are 100 percent supported through contributions. And  100 percent of everything that comes in through donations goes right back out to benefit these kids. A kid who comes to the Cinderella Project doesn’t have to pay a penny for anything we provide.”

The Cinderella Project is based at the Hope Community Church in Allandale located off Stone Drive in the old Winn-Dixie store behind Walgreen’s.

DeWitte and her Cinderella Project staff are preparing for three dress giveaway events scheduled for March 3-4 and April 1.

That means they’re currently in full fundraising and “dress-raising” mode.

Right now they have about 600 dresses in stock, but there is a shortage of plus size dresses — size 12 and above.

They also need tuxedos or black suits with white shirts and dress shoes that would be suitable for a boy to wear to prom.

Contributions are also being sought from businesses that provide services to prom attendees such as beauty shops, limo services, and restaurants.

And, of course, cash is always welcome. DeWitte often uses cash contribution to purchases things the project falls short of, such as shoes, accessories, and travel or meal expenses.

Last year the project served only about 40 boys, but DeWitte said that was probably because boys didn’t know the service was available. She’s hoping to spread the word that the Cinderella Project can outfit them for prom as well as girls.

“Last year people brought me donations and sent me donations from area tuxedo rental places,” DeWitte said. “I’ve asked for a bunch of suits, but right now we’re way behind on boy’s suits and shoes.”

The program often receives major dress contributions from area boutiques, but word has spread across the country about the program, which has received dresses from as far away as Texas and New York.

But there’s a lot of local support as well.

Many former recipients are also good about turning their dress back in after graduation, even though they don’t have to.

DeWitte said she can’t say enough about Collier Cleaners, which has literally dry-cleaned and/or repaired hundreds of dresses and never charged a dime.

DeWitte also praises the women of Hope Community Church who always donate their time and resources to the project.

They try to make the dress giveaway events special for all the recipients. It turns into part fashion show, part free shopping spree as each girl tries to pick out every element for her perfect ensemble.

The Cinderella Project has also become a regional program.

Last year the program served students from Hawkins, Sullivan, Claiborne, Johnson, Unicoi, Carter, and Knox counties.

DeWitte said she fully expects 2017 to be the Cinderella Project’s biggest year yet.

The March 3 event begins at 3:30 p.m. and the March 4 and April 1 events are from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Contributions can be mailed to the Cinderella Project, P.O. Box 35, Rogersville, TN 37857, or call DeWitte at (423) 754-5585.

The Hope Community Church has a service called Hope Helps, which is an emergency food and clothing pantry. Any donations of dresses, tuxes and other items can be dropped off there as well on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.    

File Video from Cinderella Project event March 12, 2016: