Brooke Hampel walked into the YWCA Elgin gym Saturday to see thousands of dresses arranged by size and color, a wall of jewelry, shoe racks, makeshift dressing rooms and a seamstress station for alterations. Unlike some of the girls shopping, she didn't know what she wanted. But almost two hours later and after trying on more than 30 dresses, she found an elegant black and red gown that will be perfect for her prom this spring.
Hampel, 16, of Burlington, is one of about 400 girls to find free or low-cost dresses through Cinderella's Closet, which is in its fourth year at the YWCA and its ninth year as a program of the Elgin Junior Service Board. Organizers suggest a $5 donation for entrance, and girls have access to a dress, two pieces of jewelry and shoes, a purse or a scarf. Deirdre Higgins White, one of the main coordinators of the massive volunteer effort, said young women walk in unsure of what to expect and change as they try on the gowns, standing up straighter, holding their heads a little higher.
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"It's more than a dress," Higgins White said. "It's about the empowerment of women. It's a great event."
Michelle Velazquez, 17, of Algonquin, spent her time Saturday searching for a dress in a soft color -- purple, blue or green, all of which were represented among the racks. Velazquez's friend heard about the event and invited her along. Many girls shopped with their mothers, both generations excited for the amazing deals, many of them on new dresses with the tags still on.
Donations stream in all year, according to Higgins White. This year the jewelry tables got a boost with donations from Charming Charlie and Claire's stores.
Sherry Kinser, chairwoman of the Cinderella's Closet committee through the Elgin Junior Service Board, said more than 100 volunteers were at the YWCA at 9 a.m. Saturday ready to help check girls in and out, hem dresses and serve as shopping guides dubbed Fairy Godmothers.
"The main focus today is girls walked out and said 'I got everything I dreamed of,'" Kinser said.
All the dresses, included wedding gowns, will get pulled out again in late summer for a secondary event open to women of all ages. Cindy's Super Sale offers similar deals for a $25 suggested donation. Find YWCA Elgin on Facebook to stay up to date on event details.