That old saying about the advantage of being an early bird proved true last Saturday for high school student Esohe Irabor.
The 18-year-old arrived at the Benning Road Boys & Girls Club in Northeast at 7:10 a.m. She showed up bright and early and happened to be the first in line for a prom wear giveaway event that started at 9 a.m. sharp. Twenty minutes later, she had found "the dress" – a sophisticated champagne colored gown – as well as a matching wrap for her shoulders, purse, earrings, pendant and bracelet. All for free. The only item left for the Banneker High School student to purchase was a pair of shoes.
"I feel good about it. I am happy," said Esohe. She said if she hadn't come to the event she likely would have waited until the week of the prom and then scrambled to find something to wear.
This is the fourth year of Operation Pretty and Polished, a well-organized event that attracts hundred of teenagers and parents as well as scores of volunteers. Before the doors opened nearly 100 hopefuls were queued up outside.
Justine Love, director of community and public affairs with CBS Radio of Washington, said the event was started "due to the economic crisis and the realization that there were needs related to proms."
Today, it's a collaborative effort with State Farm Insurance, Once Upon a Prom, the Metropolitan Police Department, 95.5 WPGC-FM, El Zol 107.9 FM, the Office of the Attorney General and the U.S. Marshals Service.
Through word of mouth the event has grown. This year 1,300 new and "gently loved" dresses, tuxedos, shirts, ties, shoes and accessories were available. Garments for the girls [21 racks divided by size and five tables filled with shoes, jewelry and purses] overshadowed the goods for the young men [two racks of suits and shirts and two tables of shoes, ties and accessories]. Love said dresses were screened and any deemed too provocative are being donated to adult charities or drama departments.
With a pastel balloon arch at the entrance of the gym and with DJ Storm from WPCG blasting music, the room had a definite prom-like feel.
Daniel McCoy, 17, who attends Forestville Military Academy and plans to attend his prom in Greenbelt, Md., on May 22, was hoping to find a tux, but at 6-foot-3 nothing on the racks were suited for his frame. However, he did leave with a purple tie and a $60 voucher from a men's clothing store.
"I think this is a real nice community event," said Daniel.
Teens had the benefit of personal shoppers who helped them to pick out items.
Donnell Hounshell, a volunteer from Upper Marlboro, Md., assisted Esohe with her selections.
"I just thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to help these girls look wonderful on their prom night," said Hounshell.
As the girls stepped in and out of dresses and as volunteers helped with zippers and straps, comments such as "That's a perfect fit", "Aren't you pretty in purple" and "Look at those shoes" could be heard.
However, the enthusiasm ramped up when one by one the young women walked into the room where parents were sequestered. Applause erupted along with exclamations such as "Don't you look pretty" and "That is so cute." More than one mother and daughter hugged.
Love explained that parents aren't allowed to shop with their children because it causes too much drama.
While waiting in the parent's room for her 17-year-old daughter, Angela Walker of Suitland, Md., said she didn't mind the restriction.
"It's her day," said Walker. "I trust her judgment. She's very independent."
Walker said she told her daughter that if they didn't find anything at the prom wear giveaway, they would go shopping. They left without a dress.
However, Victoria Fields turned out to be a satisfied customer. The 14-year-old, who attends Eliot-Hine Middle School in Northeast and is planning to go to the prom aboard the Spirit of Washington cruise ship in May, found a short purple sequin number that excited her and her mother, Jennifer Fields. The mother said her daughter originally wanted a Vera Wang designer dress.
"Mama is on a budget," proclaimed Jennifer Fields. "This is a good thing. This helps the parents out. Everybody has bills. Everything is really expensive."