While browsing the racks of gowns Saturday at the Kennedy Memorial Park Recreation Center in Hempstead, Freeport High School senior Grace Lofudu said she was looking for a long lavender dress to wear to her prom.
For the fourth consecutive year, Women of Integrity, a nonprofit based in Hempstead, transformed the community center into a shopping boutique with nearly 350 dresses available to local teens.
Lofudu, 17, said she appreciated the free evening wear.
“It gives a lot of girls even an option to go to prom, because some people can’t even afford a dress,” she said.
After trying on a strapless purple princess-like ballgown, Lofudu said she may have found the one. Her friend, Estelle Zobedi, was still searching for her dream gown – a long, one-shoulder dress, preferably in gold or blue.
“Prom would be really expensive if I wasn’t able to come here,” Zobedi, 18, also a Freeport senior, said. “The only thing I need to do is take care of the makeup, the limo and the prom ticket.”
Shantay Carter, 35, of Hempstead, the founder of Women of Integrity, said that between November and March, the dresses – some new, others gently used – were donated at drop-off locations set up at churches, offices, dance schools and shopping stores throughout nearby communities.
Meanwhile, through social media and working with local schools, she invited girls across Long Island who were either graduating from junior high or high school to come to the group’s annual giveaway event. About 50 girls preregistered for the program, Carter said, and she estimated there would be about 50 more walk-ins.
Each girl was allowed to take home two dresses – one to wear to prom, the other for another formal occasion such as graduation -- a handbag, and pair of heels.
The shoes were provided by Chantel Adams, 30, of East Flatbush, who runs a nonprofit called The Slim Heart Campaign. She ran a collection drive and also donated 20 pairs of her own heels.
“Each shoe tells a story and to give it back to a teen that’s in need, they now can tell their own story,” she said.
Carter said each year, Women for Equality also selects one senior girl on Long Island for a head-to-toe prom makeover. This year’s recipient will be Roberta Samson of Roosevelt High School.
“Every girl deserves to go to their prom and the financial aspect shouldn’t be a reason why you don’t go, especially if you’ve worked hard,” Carter said.
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