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Cinderella Project offers free prom dresses to teens

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BELFAST - The Cinderella Project is once again providing the opportunity for every girl to feel like the belle of the ball at her high school prom. The project, which started in Belfast back in 2007, offers teenagers their very own prom dress, free of charge, from hundreds of donated gowns collected throughout the year.

"There's a lot of need for things like this here," explained Mandie Sawyer, chairperson for the Cinderella Project. "I was teaching Jobs For Maine Graduates [or JMG] when this project started, and I made it into a lesson where we talked about giving back. We thought, what if this project could inspire girls to do something, to pay it forward?"

Since then, Sawyer and her planning committee made up entirely of volunteers, or fairy godmothers as they're so often referred to, have been collecting, organizing and handing out dresses to high schoolers who might otherwise miss the big dance.

"We definitely all do feel like fairy godmothers," said Sawyer. "People have tried to pay us for the dresses, and we'd say no because everyone on the committee donates their time, the project is unfunded, and all we ask is the girls donate the dresses back for someone else to use or pay it forward [some other way]."

What many people may not know is that The Cinderella Project receives both used and new dresses from individuals, groups and companies throughout the state.

"We get dresses that sometimes are a season behind. Last year we had a lot of vintage dresses from the 80s, but then there are also plenty of new dresses that get donated," explained Sawyer, "We have some bridal shops in Portland who supply us. We also have partners all over the state now, and there's a school that does a dress drive in Southern Maine every year for us."

Maine Savings in Bangor is partnering with the Cinderella Project this year. Its Broadway location is a drop-off spot for anyone who would like to donate a dress or two.

"Whenever someone drops off some gowns, everyone 'oohs' and 'aahs' in the building," said Sarah Thayer of Maine Savings. "In this economy, it's just not possible for families to dole out the kind of money specialty shops want for the gowns. I came from a family with three girls, and every time a semi-formal rolled around we wanted a new dress. That cost adds up fast."

So where are all these dresses stored? Anywhere and everywhere, according to Sawyer.

"We have a storage unit in Belfast right now that's busting at the seams, and I have 10 dresses hanging up over my basement door. Storage is always, always an issue; that's why we try to get people to hold on to them until after the holidays."

And even though this event is something Sawyer's been involved with for years, she admits she still struggles with her predictions of which donations will be the most popular among the princesses-to-be who stop by.

"Some definitely go, and then others you think will go, don't. I can't tell anymore. Last year, we had a dress that was plaid, and as soon as we put it on a mannequin girls were like, 'Can I try that one on?' "

The Cinderella Project dress giveaway is planned for April 7 inside the former Waltz Pharmacy building located in the Reny's Plaza in Belfast. Doors are open from 9 a.m. To 4 p.m. For more information, log onto www.cinderellaprojectmaine.org or look them up on Facebook under Cinderella Project 04915.

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