A prom gown or tuxedo need not be costly, thanks to Project Prom -- which has expanded eligibility because of the economic downturn.
The program, through the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, provides at no charge new and slightly worn formal attire to young women who are eligible to receive department services.
For the first time, it also will be available to students in the free school lunch program and those who have a parent receiving unemployment compensation.
The giveaway will be held from 3 to 6 p.m. March 24, 25 and 26 in the SOURCE shop on the third floor of Century III Mall in West Mifflin. Shoes, purses and accessories also will be available.
Eligible young men can receive certificates of roughly $100 for tuxedo rental by calling 412-350-3428.
Before getting the attire or certificates, students must complete and submit the registration form found at www.alleghenycounty.us/dhs/projectprom.aspx.
A public sale of the gowns, with prices starting at $5, will take place from noon to 6 p.m. April 1 at the mall site. It will be repeated the first Wednesday of each month through September.
Project Prom began in 2003 with a collection of 348 dresses and 196 accessories and benefited 45 girls. By 2004, the collection grew to 1,443 dresses, hundreds of shoes and accessories and $470 for tuxedos in donated cash and gift certificates. To date, about 900 young people have taken advantage of the program.
Clean and slightly used current-style gowns and accessories may be donated at the Human Services Building lobby, 1 Smithfield St., from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through March 13, or at the Century III mall site from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month or by appointment.
Gift cards and monetary donations are being solicited for tuxedo rentals and for dresses in hard-to-find sizes. They can be mailed to Project Prom, 1 Smithfield St., Pittsburgh 15222.
Girls who shop for a gown in the SOURCE shop are paired with volunteers to help them find the right dress.
Samantha Baer-McVicker, community outreach coordinator for Project Prom, said high school students are thrilled to wear formal attire.
"The young women who come in are frustrated at first because they don't know their size. But by the time they leave, I can see the twinkle in their eyes. It is so exciting to see yourself in a gown like that for the first time," she said.
Freelance writer Margaret Smykla can be reached in care of firstname.lastname@example.org .