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Columbus prom dress drive makes a return

November 24, 2018

Prom is a night that most who attend will remember in one way or another for their entire lives.

But for many girls it can be a struggle to afford a dress for the special occasion. That’s where Once Upon a Prom Dress comes in.

The program collects hundreds of new and gently used formal dresses, shoes and other accessories to give out to high school-age girls to use at their prom, free of charge. It is the successor to Closet Extravaganza, started by Jean Kamrath of Columbus back in 2007.

“A girl who can’t afford a dress should have the same opportunity to go (to prom) as someone who can,” Kamrath said. “Because every girl needs to feel like a princess once in her life.”

Once Upon a Prom Dress will host a day where girls have the full prom shopping experience in February. But in the meantime, they need help collecting donations.

People can drop off new and gently used formal dresses, shoes, dress and hair accessories, nail polish and handbags at a booth located outside the Family Resource Center, 3020 18th St., in Columbus on Jan. 12 and Jan 19. from 10 a.m. to Noon. Items can also be dropped off throughout January inside the Family Resource Center at the Columbus Area United Way office.

“We definitely would like to have as many dresses donated as possible, in all sizes,” current event organizer Angie Ramaekers said.

Kamrath started what would become Once Upon a Prom Dress more than a decade ago while working as a school nurse at Columbus High School. When she discovered one student wasn’t going to prom because she couldn’t afford a dress, Kamrath sprung into action. She contacted her college-aged daughter, Molly, who agreed to give the student one of her dresses.

A few days later, the student approached Kamrath asking if she could also help three of her friends find dresses as well. Another phone call to Molly and she was able to collect a car load of dresses with the help of her Gamma Phi Beta sorority sisters. A makeshift shop was then opened up in the school where girls could get prom dresses for free and Closet Extravaganza was born.

The program ran every other year, each time collecting about 500 dresses for about 250 girls, until Kamrath retired in 2016. It was supposed to make a return last year but never materialized.

“I was sad that we hadn’t done it,” Kamrath said, “because there are a lot of students who couldn’t afford to go.”

But with Ramaekers stepping up to help organize the event, the program will return, now reborn as Once Upon a Prom Dress.

Any high school age girl from the surrounding area (Columbus, David City, Schuyler, etc.) can stop on by the program’s boutique, open on Feb. 9. Girls can bring a female adult along to enjoy the full prom shopping experience at Methodist Church Outreach Center at 3602 16th St, in Columbus from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., for free.

They may each select one dress, one pair of shoes and one set of accessories or makeup. All girls who attend will be entered into a drawing for either a hairstyle gift certificate or a corsage and boutonniere set.

“They will be able to come in and have that full shopping experience, even though no money will be exchanged,” Ramaekers said.

All items donated to the program will find a use. Kamrath said all leftover dresses will be given to local high school theater department.

“Every dress we ever got found a home,” Kamrath said. “Nothing ever gets wasted.”

Even with Kamrath taking a step back from fully managing the program, Ramaekers said she is confident the program will live on well beyond even her own involvement.

“We’re putting it into place that even if I’m no longer involved that it can continue for many, many years to come,” Ramaekers said.

Eric Schucht is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at eric.schucht@lee.net.

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