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Melissa’s Closet distributing free prom dresses Saturday

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MASSENA - Prom season is in the air, and Melissa’s Closet is ready once again to help out students with their dresses.

The not-for-profit group, named in memory of the late Melissa Walsh, will be distributing free prom dresses from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Sears end of the St. Lawrence Centre mall, Massena. This will be their sixth year of distribution.

Megan E. Walsh Hakewill, Melissa’s twin, said this will be the first time they’ve done a one-day only distribution.

“We’ve found out consistently for five years that our first day is always by far the biggest day. We might do 185 dresses the first day and 20 the next day. So we decided to put all our efforts in one day,” she said.

Ms. Hakewill said the distribution involves many people from around the community, and they’ve tested out different distribution ideas over the first five years, from two weekends to a solid week.

“There’s a lot of work that goes into it. Every year we’ve kind of tweaked it. Each year we found out that the first day is the day,” she said.

No matter how they do the distribution, though, they always have plenty of girls coming by to select a prom dress. They handed out their 1,000th dress last year.

“We’ve consistently given away over 200 dresses each year,” Ms. Hakewill said. “They keep coming back every year. Clearly there’s girls that need them.”

Give away are the key words. There is no cost for any of the dresses, and she said they even have purses and accessories to go along with the prom dresses this year.

“It is truly a dress free of charge. They walk in, pick up a dress and the dress is yours forever. There’s no expectation for the dress to be returned. We’ve had several girls who went to the prom and donated their dress back to us. We do have some that are returned, and we’re always willing to take them, but that’s not the expectation at all,” she said

That, she said, eases the financial load on families.

“Through donations and fundraising, we’ve been able to take that struggle away from parents,” Ms. Hakewill said.

Dress distribution is on a first-come, first-served basis to high school girls from St. Lawrence and the surrounding counties.

“We reach out our efforts to the five surrounding counties. Every year we try to push our efforts out a little farther to make sure people know we exist,” Ms. Hakewill said.

She said they have 200 brand new dresses with tags on them and, including others that have been donated and dry cleaned, there will be about 850 overall. They are in all sizes, styles, lengths, colors and trends. Six dressing rooms will be available for the girls.

“We’ve really been able to offer a wide variety of sizes, different lengths, different colors, different styles and what’s trending at the moment. We’re ready to go. We’re looking forward to it,” Ms. Hakewill said. “Shopping for the prom dress is half the experience of going to the prom.”

The prom dresses are either purchased new by Melissa’s Closet with proceeds from fundraisers or donated to them.

“Melissa’s Closet really does work based on our fundraising efforts and the complete support and donations of the members of the community. We’re very fortunate to have the support in the community. Without it, we couldn’t do it,” she said.

Melissa’s Closet was started in memory of Melissa Walsh, who the organization’s website says was “a driven young woman, who was passionate about her family and friends. She loved printed pajamas, country music, shopping and dancing with her sisters. Melissa especially enjoyed the excitement of dressing up for proms, weddings and special occasions.

“Melissa earned her master’s degree in physical therapy at Clarkson University and was devoted to helping others. To that end, Melissa’s family has established ‘Melissa’s Closet,’ which will ensure that all high schools girls in Northern New York have dresses to attend their proms, regardless of financial or family circumstances.

“When we started it we truly had no expectations. For us, it was a very personalized decision to do this to celebrate Melissa,” Ms. Hakewill said. “It’s been a wonderful endeavor, one that brought us a lot of support from the community. As the years move on and it gets further away from the day we lost Melissa, it’s a way to truly celebrate her as an individual.”

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