Jenna Love, 15, emerged from a dressing room with a nervous smile that grew into a grin as girls started to gather around her and fuss with the bright pink gown she was wearing.
It might need to be taken in but it would work, was the final word, and the color was perfect.
“I was looking for bright pink or lavender,” she said. “I’m never taking this one off.”
Love, of Staten Island, was one of five girls from a residential treatment center in Hawthorne that arrived at the Stony Brook Holiday Inn Express on Sunday looking for a dress to wear to a formal being held at their program center.
The event was organized by Justine DeRosa and PJ Bracciodieta, two teens from St. James who are part of the organization Proud Girls, which sponsors community service projects.
DeRosa and Bracciodieta held a local dress drive and got donations from boutiques across Long Island and New York City. And on Sunday, they set up a makeshift Prom Dress Boutique in a conference room at the Holiday Inn with a total of 217 new and gently used dresses for the taking, some still with price tags as high as $600.
Though there was an air of glamour in the room -- as girls in sequins and tulle posed for cameras and twirled for their onlookers -- the theme at the heart of the event was definitely economy.
Debbie O’Neill, of Bohemia, brought her daughter Danielle, 19, and friend Briana Gallagher, 17, to find dresses for their upcoming prom at Connetquot High School. O’Neill said that when she and her daughter began looking for dresses, she was surprised at how expensive they were.
“In this economy,” she said, “I’ll be very happy if she finds something here.”
If she didn’t, they would look for another dress giveaway or check thrift stores, she said.
Although Danielle O’Neill had her eye on a $300 dress she saw at a boutique, she decided on a deep blue satin strapless gown on Sunday.
And Gallagher picked up a red and black paneled gown. Gallagher, who has a twin sister that lives in upstate New York, said she was trying to make the expense of two proms easier on her mother’s wallet.
“I’m happy to get a dress without spending so much money,” she said. “When I’m done, I’ll probably donate it back.”
Photo: Briana Gallagher, 17, left, and Danielle O'Neill, 19, try on dresses at a free prom dress event in Stony Brook. (March 27, 2011)