Eight years ago Noel D'Allacco was a wedding and event planner with a few too many bridesmaids dresses on her hands. Then, a bell went off. The Yonkers native called Saunders High School, her alma mater, and offered to bring over ten gowns for girls who couldn't afford to buy their own prom dresses. All ten dresses were used and Operation PROM, D'Allacco's non-profit, was born.
"I was surprised because I didn’t realize that there were so many students in need," said D'Allacco. "One student was homeless. I wasn’t really aware of the situation back then. These girls probably thought they weren’t able to go to the prom. It made me feel good that I could help them."
Operation PROM distributed 3,200 dresses throughout New York last year, estimates D'Allacco, and the numbers will only grow with the addition of Petit Penelope in Wappingers Falls to the local chapters. The bridal and formalwear store officially launched its Operation PROM section Saturday, expanding the non-profit's presence in the Hudson Valley.
"This is the first Operation PROM being run in a store," said D'Allacco. "I think it’s a great connect because people coming in can learn about Operation PROM and bring back a dress they know they will only wear once."
To be elligble for a dress, high school students must fill out a form online or at their school guidance office stating they are in financial need, and be in good standing academically, a fact corroborated by an official school signature.
More than 100 high schools in the Hudson Valley and New York City benefit from the program and New Jersey and Georiga have chapters. Alternative schools where students are wards of the state are also served by Operation PROM, as are sick and terminally ill students, for whom the organization throws a prom in The Bronx.
Westchester's Department of Social Services and The College of Westchester, where D'Allacco teaches business, distribute dresses locally. Dresses must be in good condition, no more than three years old, and have no sleeves or stains. All sizes are accepted but plus sizes that are age-appropriate are in demand. Tuxedo donations are also needed.
"We have been very fortunate to get very beautiful and expensive dresses," said D'Allacco. The list of designers includes Oscar de la Renta, Marchesa, Nicole Miller and Vera Wang.
At Saturday's Petit Penelope launch, Miss Hudson Valley 2012 Megan Hernandez and Miss Westchester Teen 2012 Jacqueline Groccia came out to support the cause and a few dozen dresses were collected. The gowns will be distributed during Spring Break. And for the first time, Men's Wearhouse is donating two free tuxedo rentals to every high school.
"Several of the girls I've met have told me and my volunteers that it’s the first time they've ever put on a dress," said D'Allacco. "They say, Wow I feel like a princess."