Prom Dress Giveaway Makes Dreams a Reality

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    What began as a high school service project has turned into seven years of prom dress donations, giving gently used gowns to students in need.

    Princess and the Prom is a nonprofit organization that collects used prom dresses and hosts annual giveaways for students who can't afford to buy their own. This year, co-founder Cheryle Podgorski, whose daughter Lauren started the project while in high school, has collected over 2,000 dresses to give away to some 600 students.

    The 2013 giveaway is being held April 5-7 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Windsor. Princess and the Prom has filled the entire ballroom area with colorful clothing racks and private dressing rooms. The gowns are neatly organized by size and color. Several pairs of heels are also up for grabs.

    Students receive the help of one of 250 volunteers, who act as personal shoppers to help guide them through the process. Each student has 30 minutes to find her perfect dress.

    Podgorski said the giveaway is open to all Connecticut high school students, and that it's up to the students and families to determine their level of need.

    "It's an honor system," Podgorski said.

    The giveaway is sponsored by Best Cleaners, which signed on in 2009 to collect, clean and transport the dresses.

    Students are grateful.

    "This is like the best part of high school... going to your senior prom," said Bulkeley High School senior Zuleika Guadalupe, of Hartford. Guadalupe went to the giveaway unsure of what to expect and walked away with a brand new rhinestone-encrusted white chiffon ball gown.

    "It's very rewarding," Podgorski said. "We love it."