(Photo: Priceless Gowns/First Baptist Church on Conroe)
High school prom can be an expensive endeavor for students and their parents, but some churches are trying to ease the financial burden by offering free gowns while also addressing some of the spiritual needs of the girls they are seeking to help.
Carol Crockett is one of the founders of Priceless Gowns, a ministry of First Baptist Church of Conroe, Texas, which had its sixth annual prom gown giveaway this past weekend. The ministry made approximately 580 dresses available for girls to choose from this year, and most of them were donated by individuals and local businesses.
"Our church has a huge atrium, and we transform it into a boutique," Crockett told The Christian Post on Tuesday. "And each girl is assigned a personal shopper that goes around with them, and they build a relationship."
The concept for the event was developed several years ago when Crockett and her husband began teaching a small group of young married couples. One day, while having dinner together, the women decided it was important to find a way to help others outside of their group. During a brainstorming session, one of the women said she needed to figure out what to do with her old prom dresses, and their answer to her dilemma was Priceless Gowns.
"The first year, I've got to say, pretty much, there was a lot of focus on physical needs," said Crockett. "And then, as we expanded, we thought, you know, we might impact these girls to see their value in God's eyes."
After several years of passing out Bibles provided by the The Gideons International, the ministry now hands out teen Bibles and a devotional book to each girl searching for a dress. Event volunteers also find out whether or not each girl has a home church to attend so they can follow up with the teens accordingly.
Each year, Crockett said, there is at least one particularly touching story that comes from the giveaway. During the first year, for example, a local girl who had been in a car accident and was wheelchair-bound went to the Priceless Gowns giveaway seeking a dress with her mother and stepmother. The teen wanted a pink dress, and she cried when they found the one she wanted.
The girl's stepmother told Crockett last year that the girl has since died, but she did go to prom wearing the gown.
"When you have a story like that, you are so touched that it's worth any amount of time you give to it," said Crockett.
The Grace Place Community Church in Lenoir, N.C., also offers a service similar to Priceless Gowns called Dress to Impress. Although The Christian Post was unable to reach a church spokesperson before the time of publication, the ministry's website says promgoers had the opportunity to choose from a selection of over 400 dresses at this year's event, which also took place this past weekend.
A report from the 2012 Dress to Impress event also shows that the dress giveaway offered the church many opportunities to share the Gospel message. Volunteers shared the Gospel with 167 people, of whom 21 put their faith in Jesus Christ as a result.
Kristie Zimmerman, co-director of Cinderella's Closet in North Apollo, Penn., says the prom dress ministry she's running has prompted the parents of some high school students to take a closer look at her church.
"The moms of the girls that come in are the ones that are just so thankful for the event and ask about other ministries we may have in church," said Zimmerman. "The parents are the ones that want to know about the services and our other outreach and things like that. So it's really been gratifying to be able to bring some more people to Christ through it."
Cinderella's Closet, which began about 10 years ago at the North Apollo Church of God, is a sister ministry to another clothing outreach, Kid's Closet. Between 150 and 200 girls search for gowns in the church's sanctuary-turned-boutique each year, according to Zimmerman, with 90 percent of them choosing to take a dress with them.
Many prom dress ministries, including all of those mentioned in this article, also offer the opportunity for students to obtain other items for free, such as shoes and accessories.