FORTVILLE — Silk and satin rustled gently as young women and their mothers perused the racks and tables set up in the hallway outside the Mt. Vernon High School auditorium.
Sequins glimmered and embroidery shined as the students imagined twirling around the dance floor in one of the dresses. Nearby, shoes, jewelry and purses to match were set up on tables.
All of the formal apparel was available free of charge to the students through Jennifer Sweet’s “Second Dance” dress donation and giveaway, an effort to make school dances more affordable for high school students amid the costs of tickets, transportation, dinner and the various other trappings of prom and other dances.
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Sweet, of McCordsville, noticed dresses taking up space in her daughters’ closets and thought they could be put to better use, she said. Before the winter dance at Mt. Vernon High School earlier this year, she organized a dress drive to connect students with new or gently used dresses at no cost, but she asked those who took a dress to make a donation to Angel Connection food pantry in McCordsville.
The offerings grew much larger than just the contents of her daughters’ closets, she said.
“It’s a community effort,” she said. “There were people I didn’t know and people from the school who dropped things off at town hall.”
Dresses and shoes in many sizes, some new with tags still attached, waited for students to choose them for their evening of dancing. Sweet said she has more than 100 prom dresses ready for an event in February, meant to help girls in the community find an evening dress at no cost except a donation to the area food bank.
MVHS staff were enthusiastic about the idea, working with Sweet to use the space near the auditorium as a pop-up dress store.
“It’s been really positive,” she said, adding she was pleased to see more than 25 people come out to donate or look through the dresses. “I was worried no one would show up.”
Christy Stiff, MVHS’s performing arts administrative assistant, said the winter dance, the Snow Whirl, serves as the largest fundraiser for the music program at the high school. There’s a formal dance, and then the next day, there’s a father/daughter dance called the Snow Whirl Princess Ball, where the young ladies get their hair and nails done by high school students.
She praised Sweet for her effort to get dresses out of closets and passed on to girls who need them.
“It helps promote the event and gets kids to go, and they don’t have to buy a dress. They can put that money toward their ticket,” she said.
Donna Callahan, who lives in the Mt. Comfort area, perused the dresses and sent pictures of promising options to her daughter, a freshman.
She said she hopes to donate some dresses to the Second Dance drive from their own closets.
All the dresses were cleaned and in good shape, Sweet said, adding that donors surprised her with their generosity.
Sweet, whose husband works in the Anderson area, invited students from the Daleville and Anderson area to come to the drive or donate as well, she said.
“We got a lot of donations from Hamilton County parents, too,” she said. “They saw my ad and were kind enough to donate.”
Sweet’s daughter, Emma Sweet, a junior, said she was proud of her mom’s effort and excited to see the dresses she’d worn go to new homes.
She watched and answered questions as girls looked through the racks, keeping an eye on two dresses, one red with black flowers and one that was black and tan, hoping to see them make another young woman happy.
“I think this is good for the community,” she said. “Lots of people I know donated, which was really nice.”
Jennifer Sweet said she intends to put on a dress giveaway before as many dances as possible, saying as long as there’s a need and interest, she will continue it.