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Prom Dresses Without the Price

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Prom-bound students sampled different gowns at Child and Family Services’ offices. Photo by Colleen Uechi.

Last year when the prom dress she’d rented online failed to arrive, Molokai High student Giesha Nunez had to travel to Maui to buy a gown—on the day of prom.

This year Nunez and dozens of other banquet and prom-bound teens got to browse formal dresses on Molokai. All were available for free in the island’s first Bella Project Prom Dress Giveaway, hosted by Child and Family Services (CFS) last Wednesday.

“Molokai has a lot of extra assistance to help the kids,” said Molokai High parent Cheri Rivera, who feels that’s a unique trait of the island. “It’s a blessing to have … for the girls, to feel extra special on this special night.”

The giveaway was part of The Bella Project, an Oahu-based nonprofit that outfits middle and high school students with prom dresses and accessories, all for free. Every year, the project gives away 300-400 “new and virtually new” dresses donated by individuals or organizations, said Bella Project Treasurer Charise Shigeta. Previously focusing on Oahu, the Bella Project expanded to Maui and Molokai for the first time this year, and Shigeta added they’re looking to bring events to Kauai and Hawaii Island as well.

“We requested 60 dresses and they sent 102,” said CFS Island Manager Titi Hernandez, who added that “our girls on Molokai need it,” as prom expenses can be overwhelming.

Dresses were available to any girls attending the eighth grade banquet or junior/senior prom. Hernandez said that in all, 71 girls came to CFS and 64 went home with flowing, colorful gowns. CFS staff also contacted school counselors to find students with the greatest financial need and allowed them to choose their dresses first.

Masako Formals donated many of the gowns, while Molokai’s Consuelo Foundation paid for shipping and the Friends of the Children’s Justice Center of Maui provided refreshments. First-time Molokai jewelry vendor Vana Montizor also sold handmade earrings at the event.

“It’s cool how they let the community come out [to choose dresses],” said MHS junior Kapua Kehano. “You don’t have to go off island and stress about it. I’m glad they provide stuff like this for us.”

CFS will have another giveaway for the remaining dresses on Thursday, May 26, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at CFS’s offices next door to Bank of Hawaii. Hernandez said they hope to hold a similar but bigger event next year, with shoes, accessories, make-up and maybe even some boys’ formal wear. Students can also donate their dresses back to the project after prom is over.

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