Story by dailyunion.com: on Monday, April 7, 2014
By Chris Welch, Union staff writer
WHITEWATER — A special event such as prom or awards night is a major milestone in high school students’ social lives, and they often wish to dress appropriately to reflect the formality of the evening.
However, for many students and their families, the purchase of formal wear is simply an economic impossibility. It’s not like a fairy godmother is going to come along and just give away a taffeta and satin gown, right?
Well, spread the word: Fairy godmothers can be found in Whitewater during the “Prom Possible” event sponsored by The Clothes Closet, during which young men and women can obtain formal wear for free from 5 to 8 p.m. on two Wednesdays, April 9 and 23.
The Clothes Closet is located at 133 S. Franklin St., on the second floor of the Whitewater Congregational United Church of Christ. Jointly operated by the Congregational UCC and neighboring United Methodist Church, it has been collecting clothing for distribution to anyone in need for more than 13 years.
The Prom Possible event is filling a special niche as prom and graduation season approaches; however. It is being overseen by several volunteers, including church member Kaye Robers and University of Wisconsin-Whitewater student Emily Babcock.
Babcock, originally from Pardeeville, said that two things got her involved in Prom Possible.
“Between my sister and I, who is four years younger than me, we accumulated a lot of homecoming, formal, and prom dresses throughout the years we were in high school,” she said. “We had them all in a downstairs closet, and my dad told us to get rid of them.”
About the same time that conversation took place, Babcock attended a Whitewater League of Women Voter’s meeting and heard Kay speaking about the Clothes Closet.
“I just thought it would be better to donate them more locally than to take them to some place large like a Goodwill or St. Vincent de Paul,” Babcock said. “I met Kay again, and started to help sort through the clothes. Then Kay came up with the prom idea.”
Babcock said that when she was in high school, there were young ladies who could not afford formal wear, and attended prom in jeans.
“In high school, formal events are things a lot of girls look forward to,” she noted. “I think if we can make one girl’s night memorable, it is a win-win for everyone.”
Babcock’s initial donation has grown much bigger than gowns from a pair of sisters.
“I came in with 15 dresses,” Babcock said. “Then we advertised a bit; I contacted radios stations and over 50 student clubs on campus.”
Robers and Babcock said they attended resident hall meetings on campus seeking donations, and they set out donation boxes in the halls.
“I was explaining to one young lady on campus what we were doing with the dresses, and she almost broke down in tears,” Robers said.
They have collected 74 dresses since they started Prom Possible.
“We have clothes for young men, too,” Robers said. “We have two tuxedos, and some nice suits and sports jackets. Nowadays, it’s not the end of the world if a young man does not have a tux, but they still want to dress nice. We have had some name-labels donated. People are so generous.”
Prom Possible has clothes that are donated specifically for proms, but, Robers, Babcock and other volunteers sorted through the regular donations, as well, to find items that could be used in any formal setting, such as ties, shoes, jewelry, and purses.
“We have everything you need to go to prom,” Robers said.
Remember the fairy godmother mentioned earlier? It gets even better.
“We will have someone here to do alterations on the nights we give the clothes away,” Robers said.
Robers noted that the Clothes Closet has been at the Congregational UCC for a dozen years.
“It started at the Methodist Church, but it became too big and they could not handle it anymore, so it came here,” she said. “It all started with a gentleman who was a janitor at one of the schools, and he started collecting winter coats for children who needed them. He collected them, then he distributed them through the schools.
“As it continued to grow, he got more things, and he had some leftovers. So he started to distribute the clothing out of his garage, but it became too much and that is how it moved to the Methodist Church,” she continued. “At the church though, he had to pack and unpack then pack everything back up because of the space. Our pastor was at a ministerial association meeting and offered a Sunday School room to use for the clothing.”
The Clothes Closet now more or less dominates the second floor in the Congregational Church.
“We now have four very large rooms, and we have two hallways full of tables and hanging racks,” Robers said. “It’s grown by leaps and bounds. We probably have about 25 people who work at it on a regular basis.”
The normal schedule for the Clothes Closet is that it’s open on the first and third Saturday of every month from the third Saturday of August through the first Saturday in June. It’s closed for most of the summer months.
“The reason for that is that it’s very hot upstairs, and it’s not air-conditioned,” Robers said.
She added that during winter months, the Clothes Closet is open on Friday evening, as well.
“We have no requirements for anybody who needs to come here,” she said. “All we ask is that you only take what you need.”
Robers said none of this would be possible without the “very, very generous donors” who give their gently used clothing to the Clothes Closet.
“We have no budget, no money,” she said. “If anyone wants to give us anything, we always ask for 13-gallon trash bags because that is what most people carry their clothes in to take home.”
Robers said that they still are accepting formal wear clothing for this year, and anything that does not get picked this year will be saved for next year’s prom season.
Clothing can be dropped off at the Clothes Closet, or at a special bin set up at Daniels’ Sentry in Whitewater.
For more information, contact Kay Robers at (262) 379-0187 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.