I want you to stop and think for a minute about just how many 799 is. Can you hold 799 of anything in your hand? You could head on down to the Walmart and buy a 60” LCD HDTV and still have enough to get a couple movies and some snacks. If you took $799 to the Dollar Store you could make it rain in there. Like one of everything, y’all. If your pet had 799 fleas, there would be a huge problem. If you got in your car and drove 799 miles south from Belfast, Maine, you wouldn’t stop until you hit Virginia. That’s a lot of gas.
Luckily for us, we don’t have any of those things. No dollar bill droppin’, big tv buying, flea bombing, or toll road driving. Nope. Instead, we have 799 dresses. Or, technically, we had 799 dresses.
Definitely 799 (more like 1 million 99) tears and tissues shed when the perfect dress finds its perfect match.
And way, way more than 799 memories.
I can picture the first girl from the first year so clearly in my head. I even remember her name, Natalie. She stopped in to the give away because she saw the sign that said “free prom dresses inside”. We were called “Cinderella Project 04915” back then, and we had about 50 dresses for her to choose from. I’ll be honest, some of them were not great. Some of them had potential, if you could look that far. If you knew someone, who knew someone, who had a grandma who had a sewing machine and could make a little nip here and a tuck there, that dress could totally work for you. Some of them needed a little imagination and (as we told ourselves) “the right girl”.
So back to Natalie. She picked a few dresses and went into the storage room/closet to change. That’s what we had back then, a nearly pitch black closet full of spare chairs and tables and barely big enough for her to change her mind. She came out and modeled each one and we all (the three volunteers who were there) were just so ecstatic. I was partial to the purple dress, myself, a v-neck satin with side ruching, super flattering. This poor girl didn’t know what to think. We were literally fawning over her, you might even call it gushing. We were just so excited, so enthusiastic, so desperate for someone to take a dress. A free dress! This dress is free! Isn’t it beautiful!? What about this one? Do you like red? We bombarded her with questions and suggestions. When Natalie chose her dress, we lovingly bagged it up and gave her a magic wand to remind her to pay it forward and do a good deed for someone else. She just smiled and nodded, and as she left, the three of us look at each other and patted ourselves on the back. A job well done, we told each other. Way to go getting that dress donated! I told my co-volunteer. Great job getting that small stain out! She replied back. I hope she pays it forward, the third said, and we all swallowed the lump in our throats.
Every year in April since that day, the fairy godmothers of the Cinderella Project of Maine have had those same lumps in our throats, that same excitement, that same anticipation. Will the girls come? Will they find dresses? Will they have a good time?? Are these dresses still stylish? What exactly qualifies as vintage? Will they pay it forward? How will they pay it forward?
We are just days away from our 8th annual give away. 799 dresses have been given to 799 deserving girls who are just dying to do their thing and make their mark on the world. This year I’m asking myself and my fellow fairy godmothers the usual questions like, will the girls come, will they like these dresses, will someone else agree with me that this plaid dress is awesome, will we hit our 1,000th dress this year, and most importantly, will we have enough tissues on hand when each volunteer has her “Natalie” moment?