Project Fairy Godmother! Collaboration and Partnerships for Prom Season!

You ever get an awesome idea, and then the year starts rolling along, and before you know it, it’s November, the library calendar is already well into March, and you’re still back somewhere in August trying to catch up from Summer Reading?


Just me?


Well, one such idea that I’d been holding in my cap for years has been a prom dress giveaway.  As the last formal event of their high school careers, many young people find prom to be one of the most coveted rites of passage.  It’s their culminating event where they get to dress up, show off, and celebrate their impending release from high school.  Depending on the prom culture in your local schools, dresses can be expensive, flashy, and sometimes unobtainable to ladies with a limited budget.

A prom dress giveaway is an opportunity for young ladies to receive the (gently used) dress of their dreams, for the low, low price of FREE. It’s basically a pop-up boutique of fancy, where volunteers serve as personal shoppers and attendants, helping “shoppers” find their gowns and sometimes, shoes and accessories.    I was practically chomping at the bit to do this for my library .

One serious problem stood between me and my grand scheme though: Space.


Our library is on the smaller scale, and really isn’t equipped to handle the space demands of collecting dresses for the months leading up to a giveaway.  We have a few storage areas, but they’re really for temporary use and can’t be used for long lengths of time as they’re shared with the rest of the library.  Another community agency had held a prom dress giveaway in the past, and I thought it would be a perfect fit, but when I tried to partner with them, the library somehow got relegated down to simply displaying flyers.

lagrima 2

I decided that perhaps my idea would need to be on hold.


A few months later, while attending a meeting of one of my local library groups, a colleague mentioned that she was hoping to do a prom dress swap with another library.  Her idea was to have her teens collect dresses from their community, and then donate those dresses to another library that would actually give the gowns away.


That would eliminate my space issue!  Or at the very least, minimize it.  Rather than a few months, my only real issue would be holding on to the dresses for a couple of weeks.  This could work!  I immediately pitched it to my manager and director, and got the green light.

Flyer - updated partners

Before the Event:

Project Prom Dress, her program, would run from January 16-25, and then she’d drop the gowns off to me in time for our Fairy Godmother Shoppe, set to take place in March.  Both of us chose to market the setup of our programs through the appeal of volunteer hours and would use our teen volunteer groups to sort, distribute, and assist.  Since distributing the gowns would take a few more volunteers than collecting them, I then reached out to my local sorority chapter to see if they’d like to serve as my day-of personal shoppers.  I was also using them for their expertise, since they’d previously volunteered with another prom dress giveaway in the city.  {wink}

While my partner was busy getting her library ready for collecting dresses, I started nailing down a few more partnerships.  I stopped into a local dress shop on the way in to work asking if they’d be willing to share our flyer, and the conversation resulted in the owner donating a clothing rack for us to use for displaying dresses, and even provided alteration discounts for our patrons. Deciding to continue trying my luck, I put a call in to a nearby DSW store, and came away with 50 free shopping bags for girls to take their goodies away in.  I was also able to secure a Mary Kay representative to provide the girls with makeup consultations.

I made sure to place all of my partner’s information on the flyer, encouraging each of them to share it with their customers, partners, and communities as well.  I also included both libraries, to show the communities that we were working together.   We made sure to get the word out to not only our suburbs, but the city as well.

IMAG4187Some partnerships weren’t as lucky, I have to admit.  I reached out to two of our local university fashion departments to see about in-house alterations, but one was hosting their annual Spring Fashion show on the same date, and the other never got back to me.  I’d also wanted to see about securing some dry cleaning coupons, but it didn’t work out.  Nonetheless, I felt like we had a pretty good program in the works.

In what felt like the blink of an eye, it was suddenly March, and Becca, my awesome collaborator, was at my library with a carload of gowns.  I have a few college-aged “teen room graduates” who frequent our library in the mornings and was able to get them to help us bring the dresses in.  I was prepared for us to sort them, but Becca’s teens had already pre-sorted the dresses by size and style and bagged them in order. Have I mentioned that she’s awesome?

Day of  the Event:

While I did not advertise for them, by the day of the event, I’d somehow also collected makeup samples, a few pairs of shoes, and some handbags!  As part of their own gift to the event, the sorority also collected and provided free jewelry as well.  It really did look like a boutique.

My teen service club was in charge of our makeshift fitting room, (we closed off our equipment room and used our library green screen as a shield), returning unwanted dresses to the racks, and also “checkout”.  I gave all volunteers an info sheet with the rules of the day, and some FAQs.  I also provided snacks and beverages for them as a thanks for all of their help.

Checkout consisted of making sure the girls had been given a bag to carry their items, and also to remind them to sign our thank-you board, to stop over for their makeup consultation if they wanted one, and to provide their contact info so that we could have some stats on what schools we were able to serve and how many items we gave away.  Every girl who checked out, also received a congratulations card, stapled to a gift certificate for the alterations.

Our only requirement for receiving anything in the Shoppe, was a high-school ID.

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After the Event:

We returned anything borrowed from local businesses, and provided each of them with a custom Thank-You card.  I was even able to get the sorority to pencil the event into their calendar for next year. For the dresses that weren’t chosen, I decided to separate them into piles.  The absolute best gowns, I packed away in a plastic crate and had our library security guard help me find a safe and hidden spot that wouldn’t impose on our limited space.  For the rest of the gowns, I packed them up and donated them to Goodwill in hopes that someone would still get a great dress for less.
Fairy Godmother Shoppe ThankYou


Changes for next year:

Now that I know how far we can get just by asking, I’m planning to reach out to a few more local businesses for their assistance.  Last year, on the day of our giveaway, we learned that Charming Charlie, an accessories boutique, has a prom jewelry program where they’ll donate jewelry to prom dress giveaways like ours.  I’m also going to reach out to our local dry cleaners and see if I can get coupons for dry cleaning any dresses received from the giveaway.  This year, we did pay for our Mary Kay consultant, but in our newest members of the teen service club, I’ve identified a couple of teens who are passionate about makeup and they’ll be volunteering as our consultants, so I’m hoping to secure some more makeup samples.

Overall, we had a really great time, and most importantly, it felt great to be a part of an event that was pulled together primarily through the generosity of others.  Sometimes, when you have a great idea, and it feels like it’s been sitting on the shelf for too long, it can be easy to believe that it’s not ever going to come together.  This event taught me, that sometimes, you just need to find the right partners to help you pull it off!

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Special thanks to my continued partners:

(The Amazing) Becca Boland – Hinsdale Public Library

Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated – Forest Park Chapter  (Zeta Phi Beta is an international service organization of college-educated women, with chapters all across the country, as well as in the United Arab Emirates, England and Belgium.  If you’re looking for great community partners, you should investigate what chapters may be nearest to you!)
The Fairy Godmother Shoppe 2015



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