A community effort is underway to make sure everyone at Gautier High School who wants a dress for the upcoming prom gets one for their magical night.
The fellowship-driven endeavor is spearheaded by Monica Mingo, owner of That Gumbo Life, Merideth Dickerson, owner of Black Door Boutique, as well as Merideth Dickerson and Isabel Gray Wetterling of State Farm Insurance Agency.
“It was very important for us to make sure that everyone has a magical prom,” Mingo said. “And they shouldn’t have to worry about the cost of a dress. Everything is so expensive today and we always help out wherever we can.”
Mingo put the call out on social media that she was collecting donations of gently used formal and semi-formal dresses without rips or stains.
“We started getting dresses pretty much immediately,” she said. “One woman brought four big huge black garbage bags filled with dresses.”
Mingo said she collected almost 300 dresses in a short amount of time and knew she was going to need some help getting the dresses into the hands of prom-goers.
“I said to Meridith, ‘I need some help. The back of my store is now covered with dresses and we don’t have anywhere to put them because we’re not a dress shop,’” Mingo said, adding that Dickerson and Wetterling rolled up the very next day with clothing racks, and eager to help hang dresses. Dickerson also donated about $7,000 worth of semi-formal dresses as well as casual clothing that could be worn for various events such as getting hair and makeup done and lunch with friends on prom day or even after prom parties.
“We just wanted to make all the girls feel as beautiful on the outside as they are on the inside,” Dickerson said.
From there, they contacted Katie Gilbert who helped them find space for the dresses in the library at Gautier High School. The trio loaded up Black Door’s enclosed cargo trailer with all of the casual clothes, formal wear, and racks and set up a mini boutique in the library. Gilbert even gathered some student volunteers to organize the dresses by size and any student seeking a prom dress or casual outfit could take one without any kind of fee.
“It was so much fun and I was really surprised by the number of dresses we’ve collected,” Dickerson said, adding she also donated a few of her daughter’s formal dresses and plans to be involved in the project next year, too.
“And we had a young lady at the school who asked if she could donate,” Mingo said. “She ended up bringing in three dresses that she’d already worn to different things. That’s exactly the spirit that we are looking for.”
The community spirit continued when Wanda Norton of Bent Tree Bluff Designs Florist donated gift cards for corsages and Keith Wooten of Buddyrow donated 15 dresses from his Ocean Springs vintage clothing store.
“The response from the community has really been kind of overwhelming,” Mingo said.
Mingo began the prom dress project a few years ago when a young lady stopped by her shop searching for a vintage dress.
“She assumed we had vintage clothes,” Mingo said of her vintage furniture store. “I always write down what people are looking for and their name and phone number. I literally closed my store that day and went dress shopping for that young lady because everybody deserves a magical prom. It’s something you’re going to remember for the rest of your life and how great is it to remember that it was something magical that your community helped make magical for you.”
And the prom dress project just grew from there, although the covid pandemic did briefly have an impact when schools were closed and events were canceled.
“But, we are now at the point where everybody’s ready to help again,” Mingo said. “If just more people would organize things to help the community, more people would help.”
You can still donate to the prom dress project until Saturday, April 15 by dropping off gently used dresses at That Gumbo Shop, Black Door Boutique, and Hickory Hill Country Club and Resort.
Photos are courtesy of Monica Mingo.