On Saturday, several area teenage girls sifted through racks filled with more than 300 formal gowns in preparation for their high school prom.
Prom dress shopping is typical of the high school students at this time of the year, but what was unique of Saturday's shopping spree is that the girls were able to walk out with a dress, shoes and all the fixings without it costing them a penny.
The Princess Project, a local organization that collects prom dresses and other prom accessories for high school students, opened the doors of their current location, next to Smith Powersports on Francis Avenue, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Saturday, and will do so for all but one Saturday the rest of the month.
The store will also be open March 9, 23 and 30.
In addition, the organization also takes appointments, allowing girls to come shop through the dresses throughout the week, when someone is available.
"It's a really wonderful program," said Brandie Enslow, whose daughters were shopping for prom dresses on Saturday.
Enslow noted how expensive attending the prom can be, and said she had seen formal gowns costing as much as $500.
"There's no way we could afford that," Enslow said. "This is wonderful."
And while the dresses may be donated, the girls have plenty of variety to choose from.
Debi Smith, a project organizer, said the group collected 358 dresses this year, while some donations are still coming in. She said the one need they have is in the plus-sized dresses, ranging from size 14 and up.
The organizers have made it into a one-stop shop, offering shoes, make-up and several other prom necessities.
"There's a lot of gorgeous dresses here," said Bosha Larkie, as she tried on a green, halter-style gown.
Larkie, a freshman at East Newton, is attending the prom for the first time this year.
Smith said the Princess Project is about allowing girls the opportunity to attend their high school prom, despite the high costs associated with the event.
"There were girls that came in and said 'thank you, thank you,' that they couldn't have gone to prom without us," Smith said. "That's why we're here, to reward the girls that are going to school and working hard. Prom is a reward and we want to make sure anyone who want to go gets to go, and our means of doing that is through the dresses."
Smith said the group is still accepting donations, which can be dropped off at the Impact Store, located near Steve's Auto at 777 Business 49. The Impact Store is open and accepting donations Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and from 8 a.m. until noon on Saturdays.
The Princess Project serves Newton and McDonald Counties, though they will open their doors to any high school students. Smith noted that some had come from Joplin and even across the state line, from Kansas, to shop for gowns.
Page 2 of 2 - While the project has helped several area girls already, the organizers are constantly looking to improve their services, and are seeking a permanent home in town for next year's prom season.
For more information about the Princess Project, or to schedule an appointment to look through the dresses, call 592-3871 or 529-6199.