Andrea Stottler has found prom ball gowns on the stoop of her Wantagh home nearly everyday since February. After she posted on the Wantagh Mommas Facebook page that she and other members of the Lions Club were collecting dresses so that teens in need had something to wear to their proms, she began finding dozens of colorful garments hung over her doorway when she got home from work.
“Wantagh is such a generous community,” Stottler said. “Whenever there is a sad issue going on, the community comes together. The majority of the people who responded to my post were women, and they remember their experiences at prom and wanted to share it with other girls.”
For the first time, the Lions Club is sponsoring a dress and accessory drive, through April 21. All of the gowns, shoes, evening bags and costume jewelry members collect will be donated to the Long Island Volunteer Center Prom Boutique.
The LIVC is the resource center for volunteerism and community service initiatives throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties. Established in 1992, it operates year-round and collaborates with corporations and community organizations to address the needs of Long Islanders.
Diana O’Neill, the LIVC executive director, said she conceptualized the program 22 years ago when she was a volunteers at the Junior League of Long Island in 1995. She was teaching at a local parish outreach center when a woman came in and asked if church leaders could help find her daughter a prom dress.
The first dress drive benefitted 35 girls who could not otherwise afford a prom dress. The boutique became an official LIVC cause in 1999, and 10 years ago, Nassau Community College marketing and fashion students became partners.
Last year, the initiative helped 795 teens who were referred to LIVC by guidance counselors, social workers, and at-risk youth program coordinators.
“We accept gently used gowns, which allow individuals to let a memory marker from their life help another young woman who has worked hard, will graduate with their class, and now gets to celebrate that accomplishment,” O’Neill said. “They’ve earned this. Plus, hearing the stories about where each donated gown has been worn before lets the donator be part of the process and you realize why these gowns have been sitting in closets.”
Wantagh Lion Teri Resca brought the initiative to the community. She has volunteered at the boutique, which is held in a secret location to protect the teens’ privacy, for more than 10 years.
Resca manages the jewelry station, helping girls match earrings and necklaces with the dresses they picked out with the help of personal shoppers. She said that the joyful looks on the teens’ faces are impossible to describe.
“The gratitude, the happiness — everything that is going on in their life is erased while they’re in there,” Resa explained. “Prom is a rite of passage. To not be able to go because you can’t afford it … I would never want to hear someone say that.”
Both Resca and O’Neill noted that more families in Nassau and Suffolk counties had trouble affording prom dresses for their daughters after Hurricane Sandy. Stottler said that there is also a misconception that families living in middle-class Long Island communities like Wantagh can all afford expenses for events like the prom.
“There’s always someone who needs a little extra love or money,” she said. “There are some people in Wantagh who are in need in general, and the Lions Club always tries to help. We have become our own little family.”
Lions President Gregg Markin agreed, adding that, in the last five years, many residents have joined the organization to help their neighbors and folks in surrounding communities through community services projects. He will be accepting donations for the prom boutique at Andy’s Luggage, at 1945 Wantagh Ave., Tuesday through Sunday.
As of press time, the Lions had collected 60 gowns for the boutque. Hundreds of supporters will also drop off donations at businesses and community centers across Long Island on April 23. O’Neill said that a complete list of participants is available at www.longislandvolunteercenter.org.
Resca said that Wantagh’s response to the cause has been overwhelming. “They should know that their gowns will be put to good use,” she said of the donors.