877 gowns were selected, fitted & cleaned for high school students
The 13th annual Colvin Cleaners 'Gowns For Prom' program, sponsored by The Allstate Foundation and presented by WKSE "KISS" 98.5-AM and host Janet Snyder, distributed a record 877 gowns and nearly 1,000 pieces of hand-made jewelry to high school students from throughout Western New York during distribution over three days last week at Shea's Performing Arts Center.
The young ladies selected from several thousand new and gently used gowns and were escorted by volunteers to three floors of dressing rooms to be fitted by professional seamstresses. The selected gowns were altered, dry cleaned, packaged and delivered for free by Colvin Cleaners to the young ladies' school in time for the prom.
"We were overwhelmed by the generosity of Western New Yorkers who donated so many wonderful gowns. It gave these young ladies so many to choose from, and to see them so excited when they found the perfect gown makes it all worthwhile for all of us," said Cyndee Billoni, who founded the program with her husband, Paul, president and CEO of Colvin Cleaners. "We are also so appreciative of more than 125 volunteers over the three days, including all of the seamstresses, who made this work so well for everyone."
For the 10th year, the young ladies also could select free, handmade jewelry created and donated by Marlena Gagner, owner of Meraki Jewelry Design. Gagner and friends created The Jewelry Box and, throughout the year, they make necklaces, bracelets and earrings for the young ladies to select once they have found the perfect gown.
The young ladies also can select shoes and purses, which are also donated to the program.
" 'Gowns for Prom' is a campaign which hit close to home for me as I had experienced first-hand the stress that trying to afford a new prom gown can place on a family," Gagner said. "I was inspired to help in any way I could, and what a better way to give back to the community than to create jewelry to help accessorize the gowns! Thus, The Jewelry Box was formed, and we are a team of caring, giving and creative artisans who share a common passion: to design and produce a variety of styles of jewelry and accessories for every young lady who participates in 'Gowns for Prom.' "
Gagner is always looking for volunteers and also accepts donated jewelry in any condition to be included in the collection or repaired/reworked into new pieces. Those interested can contact her at [email protected]
Colvin Cleaners was in contact with nearly 90 high schools throughout Western New York. Students made appointments over the three days to select their gown. Many schools organized bus trips and several students were accompanied by their parents and/or teachers. To alleviate the anticipated increase in the number of young ladies looking for gowns this year, Colvin Cleaners arranged for donations at more than 40 All State insurance agencies, six Erie County Department of Motor Vehicles offices, the three Reeds Jenss locations at Native Pride Truck Plaza and Restaurant in Irving. In addition, more than 500 gowns were donated at a gown drive held for several hours on March 24 at the Reeds Jenss locations.
Along with the donation of gently used gowns, several hundred new gowns were donated by local retailers, including 87 from Jackie Blemel, owner of the Jacqueline Shoppe in Williamsville. A supporter for the past 10 years, Blemel is retiring this year.
"Over the years, we have sold thousands of gowns to young ladies for their proms. I know how important that day is for them, and to not be able to attend because they cannot bear the expense of a gown breaks my heart," Blemel said. "This is why I love the 'Gowns For Prom' program so much. To see the look on their faces when they find the perfect gown on the stage at Shea's is just priceless."
Paul Billoni was equally impressed with this year's program. He said, "Having the 40 All State Insurance offices collecting gowns, along with the Erie County DMV offices, allowed us to collect more gowns than ever. We just can't say enough about the generosity of our community. Our staff looks forward to this event every year and they welcome the extra work because they know how happy it will make these young ladies feel on their prom night."
Chris Billoni, vice president of Colvin Cleaners, said the company is now collecting gowns and coats for its winter "Coats for Kids" program at the collection sites used for "Gowns For Prom." For more information, visit www.colvincleaners.com
"By collecting gowns and coats year-round and encouraging everyone to check their closets for unused items, we should be in great shape for next year's programs," he said.