KINGSPORT — Elizabethton High School freshman Brianna Barnette wasn’t looking for anything in particular during the first of three Cinderella Project prom dress giveaways Friday evening in Allandale.
She was hoping one of the approximately 1,000 dresses in stock would reach out and “wow” her.
“I’m waiting for a dress to surprise me,” she said. “I’m not really looking for anything. I’m just waiting for a dress to come (grab her).”
This is Brianna’s second year in a row utilizing the Cinderella Project.
But, unlike most of the 67 “customers” who showed up looking for formal wear Friday, Brianna didn’t have just one big night in mind.
“My school where I go we have formals like every other week,” she said. “Just grab like two dresses, and if I like it, I’ll just have it in case. In case a formal comes up.”
Sullivan East junior Bethany Leonard, on the other hand, has her school’s April 8 prom circled on her calendar.
She had tried on three dresses Friday when she came upon the right style in powder blue, but the wrong color.
“This is just a candidate,” Bethany said of her powder blue discovery. “I love the dress, but it’s just the wrong color.”
Her ideal dress was “... like a red or maroon or just a masquerade colors.”
The search continued.
The Hope Community Church in Allandale behind Walgreens hosted the first of three Cinderella Project dress/tux giveaway events.
The second is Saturday, March 4, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m.. There will be another all-day event on April 1.
Cinderella Project coordinator Ann DeWitte said in the five year history of the program there has never been more dresses to choose from.
“We have about 1,000 dresses,” DeWitte said. “Goodwill of Kingsport called us last week and had me come out and get more dresses. Then we had a boutique that went out of business in Virginia, and they gave us their dresses. It’s just been amazing, and many of the girls who came in today have been bringing their dresses back from last year. They’ve had them cleaned and brought them back, and we’re using them again.”
A wide selection of shoes, makeup, jewelry, and other accessories is available.
On Friday night, the Cinderella Project gave away 82 dresses to girls and three tuxedos to boys. That leaves more than 900 dresses available for Saturday’s turnout, which is expected to be much bigger.
In its five year existence, the Cinderella project has mushroomed from a Hawkins County program serving 45 girls in 2012 to attracting hundreds of teens from across East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia and Southeast Kentucky.
Last year alone the Cinderella Project gave away 480 dresses.
“I’ve had calls from Kentucky and up in Virginia from people wanting see if they can come get dresses,” DeWitte said. “We’ve had several come in from Knoxville. I have at least 10 girls coming from Knoxville tomorrow (Saturday), Wartburg, Rutledge, Middlesborough, Ky., up in Virginia.”
The Cinderella Project will continue to attract a bigger crowd every year as long as it has free dresses to give away, DeWitte added.
“If you go out and buy the dress, buy the shoes, buy the tickets to the prom, go out to dinner, everything — they say that you’ll have about $1,000 into a prom. Who’s got $1,000 to put in a prom? As long as people keep giving, and as long as we have the help ... we’re going strong.”
The Rogersville-based Four Square Inc. non-profit organization has been involved with the Cinderella Project since the beginning, which gives the program its nonprofit status.
As a result, donations to the Cinderella Project are tax deductible.
DeWitte invites anyone who has questions about the program or who wishes to make a contribution to call or text her at (423) 754-5585.